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Plan to turn nursing homes into COVID-19 recovery sites stirs anxiety

Governor Charlie Baker’s plan to use skilled-nursing beds for patients recovering from COVID-19 has already encountered a formidable foe in the virus itself as two facilities that agreed to offer space are now contending with outbreaks among their residents.

And the virus-free residents at the participating nursing homes in Wilmington and Worcester face a struggle of their own as some have been moved to new facilities on short notice and others worry they won’t be able to stay where they are.

“It’s just very distressing,” said Michele Nortonen, whose husband, Allan, 73, lives at AdviniaCare at Wilmington, which volunteered to provide its 142 beds to recovering COVID-19 patients. “Why do they have to outfit a little facility like AdviniaCare Wilmington?”

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On Friday, the facility’s parent company announced it was delaying plans to convert the facility into a recovery center because 51 of its 98 patients tested positive for the virus while asymptomatic. Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester, the other nursing home to disclose its participation in Baker’s plan, encountered the same dilemma after learning about infected patients there.

The virus has had a devastating impact on senior housing, infecting 480 patients at 94 long-term care facilities as of Saturday, according to state figures. Massachusetts has 11,736 cases of COVID-19 and 216 people have died of the virus, according to Saturday figures.

Nortonen said she worries about uprooting her husband, who tested negative for the virus. Nursing home staff, she said, told her he would be tested again Sunday, and if the test was negative, he would be relocated to another facility owned by the same company, likely in Chelsea or Salem. When she asked whether patients there had been tested for COVID-19, Nortonen said she was told no because they weren’t exhibiting symptoms.

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“They are not testing them because they are not symptomatic. Hello, your patients were not symptomatic either, but half of them had it,” Nortonen said. “It’s a reckless decision.”

Chris Hannon, chief operating officer at Pointe Group Care, LLC, which runs the facility, said Saturday the company will proceed with plans to participate in the program, though a timeline hasn’t been established for relocating patients who tested negative for the virus. Patients with COVID-19 won’t be moved until they have recovered, he said.

In a statement, Baker’s executive office for health and human services said it is pressing ahead with the nursing home plan and all residents at facilities being repurposed for COVID-19 recovery will be tested for the virus before they are relocated. The Worcester nursing home expects next week to start accepting COVID-19 patients leaving hospital, the state said.

Andrea Svagdys-Gumbrell said her father was moved last Sunday from Beaumont in Worcester to a Westborough facility owned by the same company. Joseph Svagdys, 89, a retired optometry professor, is anxious about his new surroundings and wishes to return to Worcester, his daughter said.

“It’s very hard for him to understand what’s happening and why he had to move,” Svagdys-Gumbrell said.

Svagdys hasn’t been tested for the virus, she said, and she’s not aware of testing being conducted at the Westborough facility.

"If my father gets this, we know he’s not going to make it through,” Svagdys-Gumbrell said.

When asked for comment Saturday, Salmon Health & Retirement, the company that owns Beaumont and other long-term care facilities, provided a statement from Thursday, saying the staff was focused on caring for patients.

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Some advocates have pressed Baker to abandon the nursing home plan and consider using dormitories, hotel rooms, and recently closed facilities to house recovering COVID-19 patients.

“While well intentioned, the experience, now temporarily halted, with the first two facilities in Worcester and Wilmington clearly demonstrates the risks involved with dislocating frail, vulnerable nursing home residents,” said a statement from leaders at three organizations that advocate for elderly and Paul J. Lanzikos, the state’s secretary for elder affairs in the 1980s.

Figures released Saturday show fatalities continue to mount at senior facilities that have already seen deaths.

At Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where an investigation has been launched into several deaths that went unreported for days, 16 veterans who developed the virus have died and another 77 patients and staff tested positive for the illness, the state said. Forty veterans who tested negative for the virus, but have other serious medical conditions have been relocated to Holyoke Medical Center.

Another veteran with the virus at Soldiers’ Home of Chelsea has died, the state said Saturday, increasing fatalities there to three. Fourteen other veterans with COVID-19 have been transferred to Boston VA Health Care System, where they are being cared for under quarantine, the state said. Six workers tested positive.

In Littleton, the parent company for Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley said it has confirmed a second death attributed to COVID-19. Three other residents have recently died from unrelated causes, said spokesman Tim Killian. So far 23 patients and staff have tested positive for the illness, an increase of six cases.

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On Friday, Hebrew SeniorLife announced it is urging all 1,700 residents at its five campuses in Dedham, Canton, Randolph, Brookline, and Revere to stay in their homes.

Jack Satter House, the nonprofit’s independent senior living facility in Revere, has been under a city-imposed quarantine since March 26. Seven residents with the virus have died and another 14 people have been sickened as of Friday, according to Hebrew SeniorLife.

A resident of Orchard Cove in Canton and a patient at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston have also died from the virus.

On Friday, Hebrew SeniorLife posted a recording on Facebook of a musical composition created by residents of the memory care unit at NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham.

They entitled the piece, “This Shall Pass.”






















Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.