State officials are pressing ahead with a plan to designate nursing homes across Massachusetts as treatment centers for recovering COVID-19 patients despite infection outbreaks at the first three homes that agreed to relocate residents to accommodate patients discharged from hospitals.
Recovering patients still needing oxygen and other support began arriving at Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester on Monday even as residents who tested positive for the coronavirus remained quarantined on another floor in that facility, a state spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, at least three sites on the South Coast and Cape Cod are being converted into recovery centers, including two former New Bedford nursing homes that are empty and being furnished with equipment.
Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that the state hopes the new “step-down facilities” will handle about 1,000 patients who’ve been released from critical care before they return home.
Baker administration officials have set aside $30 million to compensate operators that repurpose their nursing homes. The aim is to ease the burden on hospitals during the expected surge in patients between April 10 and April 20.
But plans to move residents to nearby facilities are encountering growing protests from families and advocates for residents. And on Wednesday, the state chapter of the senior advocacy group AARP, which works closely with state officials on a range of issues, expressed concern about the involuntary moves.
“Transfer [of residents] without offering appropriate and effective counseling and planning can lead to isolation and despair and the lack of predictability maximizes fear and anxiety,” the group wrote in a letter to Baker.
Not all of the new recovery sites will involve relocating residents.
Frank Romano, chief executive of Essex Group Management, which owns a half-dozen nursing homes in Massachusetts, said Wednesday he’s agreed to manage two recovery centers with at least 240 beds in vacant former nursing homes being leased by the city of New Bedford after their operator, Skyline Healthcare, went bankrupt. He said the centers will treat patients from Southcoast Health hospitals in New Bedford, Fall River, and Wareham for about 15 days.
“I’m doing it because no one else wanted to do it,” Romano said. “When I see the health care workers treating patients day and night, if I can do something to help I’m going to do it.”
Royal Falmouth Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Falmouth also appears to be joining the effort, according to a story in the Cape Cod Times that quoted a local health official, Scott McGann. McGann and managers at Royal Falmouth didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Residents being relocated to make room for COVID-19 patients are a top priority for testing by National Guard lab technicians. The new state guidance calls for residents who test positive to be isolated from those testing negative, meaning they’d be likely to remain in place if their facility is relocating residents.
Two other nursing facilities, AdviniaCare in Wilmington and Fairview Commons in Great Barrington, halted their plans to move out residents after clusters at both sites tested positive for the virus. Beaumont, the first home to agree to become a recovery center, had already moved about 120 residents last week when residents preparing to move tested positive.
AdviniaCare, where 77 residents have tested positive, still plans to convert to a recovery center, said David Ball, a spokesman for its Norwood-based parent company Pointe Group Care. But he said the timetable isn’t clear. He said it plans to relocate residents who test negative while isolating those testing positive in the building.
Nursing homes continued to report new or expanded COVID-19 outbreaks Wednesday. Ball confirmed that seven residents who tested positive at AdviniaCare have died, all of whom were receiving end-of-life care before they were tested.
In a joint statement Wednesday evening, Wilmington town officials and state legislators representing the town said they have been “closely monitoring conditions" at AdviniaCare and are working " to provide any and all appropriate resources to support the health and safety of patients and staff at the site."
Five residents died and 28 tested positive at the Alliance at West Acres nursing home in Brockton, according to a statement by its parent company, Alliance Health and Human Services, based in Southborough.
And at Mount Saint Vincent Care Center in Holyoke, part of a chain of Catholic nursing homes operated by Trinity Health of New England, eight residents tested positive, said Christine Looby, a spokeswoman.
Management at the Mary Immaculate nursing home in Lawrence, which last weekend said six residents had tested positive, declined Wednesday to release the number of positive cases. Its director said the home reports the information to state officials — who haven’t disclosed site-specific data — but would not release it publicly.
As part of a plan to pump $800 million into financially strapped Massachusetts health care providers, announced by Baker on Tuesday, state officials said $80 million will be directed to nursing facilities. Of that total, the officials said, $50 million will go to all nursing sites and $30 million to those becoming dedicated recovery centers “to support their capacity to care for COVID-19 patients."
But the plan to relocate old and frail residents at some of the nursing homes has come under increased scrutiny.
In a letter to the governor, Paul Lanzikos, a former Massachusetts secretary of elder affairs, last week wrote that “even in the best of circumstances, transfer of nursing residents is psychologically and physically traumatic.”
AARP called on the Baker administration to release information on senior care facilities that have seen cases of COVID-19.
“Caregivers and family members need and deserve to have this information for their own health decisions and as they consider possible next steps and interventions for their loved ones,” the organization wrote.
Laura Crimaldi and Laura Krantz of the Globe staff contributed reporting.
Robert Weisman can be reached at email@example.com.