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11 dead after testing positive for virus at facilities run by Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, organization says

Eleven residents of three nursing homes operated by Chelsea Jewish Lifecare just north of Boston have died after testing positive for COVID-19, officials said Sunday, as efforts to step up testing revealed that more than 150 other residents and staff in those facilities have been diagnosed with the virus.

The deaths included nine residents at Katzman Family Center for Living and one at the Florence & Chafetz Home for Specialized Care, both in Chelsea, and a resident of the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody, officials said in an interview Sunday.

Those deaths come as a Revere police captain, whose father is a Katzman center resident, is calling on Chelsea Jewish to be more transparent and improve communication with families about the care for their loved ones.

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Captain Amy O’Hara said her 85-year-old father, Ed O’Hara, has Alzheimer’s disease and also has tested positive for the coronavirus. Family haven’t been able to visit since Katzman closed to non-essential visitors last month due to the pandemic, and she said her father has lost weight and learning about his medical care has been difficult.

“We know these are challenging and unchartered waters, and everyone is tested to the limits,” said Captain O’Hara. “Communication — that’s what we ask for. It shows transparency, and that you care about working with us.”

On Sunday, the state reported 756 deaths in Massachusetts attributed to COVID-19, an increase of 70 from a day earlier. Of those deaths reported Sunday, 340 were in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, up from 306 on Saturday.

Since the state’s Mobile Testing Program launched on March 31, nearly 3,700 tests have been collected at 221 facilities, a spokesman said Sunday in a statement.

“The program has been expanded to include Assisted Living Residences, and starting tomorrow on-site testing at Department of Developmental Services group homes will be added to the program,” the statement said.

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Since testing began in Massachusetts for the coronavirus, a total of 116,730 tests have been completed, the state reported Sunday, up from 108,776 on Saturday.

At Chelsea Jewish, officials for the organization are working to test each of their roughly 350 nursing home residents for the disease by Monday, regardless of whether they show symptoms, said Adam Berman, president of Chelsea Jewish, hiring the Vikor Scientific lab to complete the testing.

He said officials regularly call contacts for nearly all of the 550 residents of their facilities to update families on testing and other issues at Chelsea Life, and keep families apprised of specific issues related to their loved ones.

“I’m not going to say that communication is ever perfect, because it’s not, especially during a pandemic,” Berman said. “We did put together a strategic communications team [and] we’ve called each and every primary family member.”

Along with the testing and with prohibiting visitors, they also isolated residents who had cases of the virus within their facilities to protect those who hadn’t been infected, he said.

So far, 117 of those residents have tested positive for coronavirus, while more than half of those cases have not shown symptoms, according to Ron Anglo, the organization’s chief clinical officer.

They said 103 of Chelsea Jewish’s roughly 700 essential workers — including nurses, housekeepers, and social workers — have been tested. The results indicated that 40 of them have positive cases of the disease.

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Chelsea Jewish also has about 200 residents in assisted living, and about 20 percent have been tested, Berman said, with eight testing positive cases for the virus.

“The virus has certainly hit our organization,” Berman said. “While we’ve had deaths, and they’re incredibly unfortunate, we would have had more if not for the actions we’ve taken.”

But O’Hara, whose father lives in the Katzman center, said she and her six sisters worry about her father’s condition while he’s on the third floor of the Katzman center, which is designated for Alzheimer’s patients.

The Katzman center was closed to visitors March 12, and at the end of the month, they learned from the nursing home that another resident tested positive for the coronavirus and was transferred to a different facility, O’Hara said.

Her father was tested on April 1, and two days later, her family was notified that he had tested positive for the disease. He is asymptomatic and not aware of the pandemic, O’Hara said.

The last time O’Hara saw her dad was April 1, his birthday, when she stood outside his building and spoke to him by phone. In a photo she took that day, her father could be seen looking down at her, his hand raised in a salute.

“It’s hard for my dad, even though he knows who we are, he doesn’t know what is going on” with the pandemic, O’Hara said.

She said that the nursing home sporadically responded to questions about her father’s care — and only improved after she went public about her father’s case on Friday. But family members continue to fight for more information about Ed O’Hara’s care, she said.

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“We want our questions answered, and we want communication about what is going on,” O’Hara said.

In the first of two Saturday FaceTime calls between Ed O’Hara and one of O’Hara’s sisters, who is a nurse and their father’s health care proxy, he appeared lethargic and hadn’t been shaved. And he has also lost 13 pounds since March, O’Hara said.

O’Hara’s sister pressed for more medical information about their father Saturday, she said, but some of those questions weren’t answered in a follow-up call. Ed O’Hara appeared to be more energetic in a second FaceTime call on Saturday, she said.

She respects the work of the Katzman staff, but is concerned they are being overwhelmed by the pandemic’s impact.

“We worry about the basic things they do every day: eating, making sure he’s clean,” O’Hara said. “You start to worry that they don’t have enough staff there.”

Barry Berman, Chelsea Life’s CEO, said Sunday that the organization’s director of nurses is in “very good communication” with one of Ed O’Hara’s daughters about his care.

She said she learned from a Globe reporter Sunday that 11 residents had died. That should have been directly communicated to families by Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, rather than simply posting a statement to its website, she said.

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“I think they are responding now because we are forcing them to,” O’Hara said. “We are seven strong women that my father brought up; we are not going to sit back.”

Rob Weisman of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.