A nurse at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton has died, the facility announced Saturday, a grim development in the fight against COVID-19 in Massachusetts long-term care facilities where patient deaths now account for nearly 45 percent of all 686 deaths in the state from the new coronavirus.
The nurse fell ill two weeks ago and tested positive for COVID-19. She had been working at the nursing home for a short time, the company said.
WCVB-TV reported the nurse was Maria Krier who died Friday. She had gone public with her concerns about the facility’s handling of the virus, saying she believed managers had no experience with infectious disease and that contributed to the spread of the virus.
“We kept waiting for the ball to drop,” she told the station. “Like, when are you going to tell us we’re exposed to it?”
Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley issued a statement offering condolences.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of one our associates during these challenging times the country is experiencing,” said Kate O’Connor, regional vice president. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family and friends.”
The facility came under scrutiny last month after town officials in Littleton accused Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley of not being forthcoming about infections there. The nursing home denied the accusations. Its parent company is Life Care Centers of America, which operates a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., that became a focal point of the virus outbreak in the US. At least 35 deaths have been linked to the facility.
At the Littleton facility, 10 patients with COVID-19 have died, the company said Friday. There are 75 staff members out of work, including 14 who have tested positive for the virus.
Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley is asking that all staff be tested for the virus. Last week, all patients there were tested through a state program carried out with help from the Massachusetts National Guard, but the workers were not tested.
On Saturday, the state said so far the testing program has collected more than 3,400 samples at more than 209 facilities. More than 3,200 test kits have also been ordered for facilities that plan to conduct their own testing with trained personnel.
“Our nurses and front-line workers are the heroes in the fight against this unprecedented outbreak," O’Connor said. “We are fighting a virus that is still largely unknown, and our nurses and staff continue to provide the best care given the guidance we have received from both federal and local health agencies.”
The virus so far has killed 306 patients in long-term care facilities, and about half of Massachusetts’ 383 nursing homes have at least one case of the virus, state figures show. As of Saturday, 2,645 residents and workers had been infected.
Late Friday, leaders of JGS Lifecare Inc. in Longmeadow published on its website a letter to families that disclosed 21 deaths among patients and infections in 136 residents and workers. Last Thursday, the facility said 29 residents were infected.
“Never in the 108-year history of JGS Lifecare have we faced a situation like this one,” said the letter from Adam Berman, the president, and Barry Berman, the chief executive. “Despite all our best efforts and preparation, the COVID-19 pandemic facing the world has found its way within the walls of the Leavitt Family Jewish Home and the Sosin Center for Rehabilitation.”
The letter said the facility’s efforts to fight the virus were hampered by limited access to testing, which led JGS Lifecare to hire a private lab to identify cases. Susan Halpern, a spokeswoman for JGS Lifecare, Saturday declined to comment beyond updates published on the facility’s website, saying their efforts are focused on residents, their families and staff.
Longmeadow officials issued a statement saying that a state epidemiologist has been assigned to help the facility.
“This is an incredibly challenging situation for any shared living facility,” the statement said. “Nursing homes are particularly challenged as they provide care to our most vulnerable population.”
Thomas Tarbell Russell, 83, a Marine veteran and retired computer programmer, died Tuesday after testing positive for the virus at JGS Lifecare. One of his daughters, Ellen Russell, said she saw him for the last time on March 11. The following day, the facility stopped allowing visitors.
The visit was memorable, she said.
Russell said she rubbed her father’s back and he reciprocated by rubbing her arm. The elder Russell had been living with Alzheimer’s disease for about five years and had moved to JGS Lifecare in January.
“I think they did their best,” she said. “I think they were absolutely overwhelmed.”
At the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where federal and state prosecutors are investigating how managers handled the outbreak and Governor Charlie Baker has commissioned an independent review, the number of deaths of veterans with COVID-19 grew to 31, the state said Saturday. Seventy-six veterans and 43 employees there have tested positive for the virus.
The state also oversees the Soldiers Home of Chelsea, where six veterans with COVID-19 have died and 66 veterans and staff have tested positive for the illness, the state said.
In Belmont, the town said Saturday that all 13 COVID-19 fatalities in the community were patients at Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility tested 65 residents for the virus, and 57 were positive, said Stewart A. Karger, the administrator.
“This enemy is vicious and contagious,” Karger said in an e-mail. “Given the fact that Belmont Manor cares for 100% elderly, many that are frail and have complex medical comorbidities, many have tested positive for Covid-19.”
Across Belmont, 95 people have presumptively tested positive for the virus, the town said in a statement.
“The Town is deeply saddened and expresses its condolences to the families and staff at Belmont Manor,” the statement said.
Globe correspondent Abby Feldman contributed to this report.