The coronavirus has killed 54 residents of a Medford nursing home over the past four weeks and infected another 100, in the latest deadly outbreak at an elderly care facility in the state.
The rising death toll at the Courtyard Nursing Care Center, a 224-bed facility located behind Lawrence Memorial Hospital, escaped widespread public notice for weeks.
In response to inquiries from the Globe on Monday, Genesis Healthcare, which operates the Medford facility, confirmed that 54 residents with COVID-19 had died since April 5. An additional 117 residents and 42 employees have tested positive for the virus, according to a statement issued by Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Genesis.
“I can assure you that we are working around the clock to keep our patients and residents healthy and as safe as possible,” Feifer said. “We are doing everything in our power — and everything medical experts know as of this time — to protect our patients, residents, and employees.”
Feifer said the Medford home cares for "largely frail, elderly seniors with multiple health conditions who are already more susceptible to the common cold, not to mention a deadly and highly contagious virus like this one.”
The average age of the residents who died was over 85 years old. Many of the residents have dementia, he said, “making precautions and restrictions difficult to enforce.”
During the past month, eight other residents have died, Feifer said. Four tested negative for the virus, with one result pending, and three refused testing.
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been ravaged by the coronavirus. Statewide, long-term care facilities account for almost 60 percent of deaths related to the coronavirus. There have been 71 virus-related deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, at least 46 at a nursing home in Lawrence, and 49 at a facility in Belmont.
Among the 30 states publicly reporting on deaths in long-term care, Massachusetts has the second-highest rate in the nation, behind neighboring Rhode Island, according to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Massachusetts health officials are notified of coronavirus deaths at long-term care facilities, but don’t publicly provide death totals at individual facilities. However some homes have done so on their own.
The Medford home acknowledged it had still not tested its entire staff for COVID-19, although state public health officials began offering testing to all residents and staff at nursing homes at the end of March. Feifer said the company was currently working with the National Guard to schedule a time to test the staff. He said testing of all residents had recently been completed and the majority who tested positive were not displaying symptoms.
In a statement, the state Department of Public Health said it had offered staffing support to Courtyard several times, most recently on April 29 when officials at the home were strongly encouraged to accept a National Guard Clinical Support Team, according to Tom Lyons, a spokesman for the department.
“The facility and corporate ownership (Genesis) declined that offer, believing that their staffing was sufficient,” Lyons said.
Reyita Ramos, whose 90-year-old mother has lived at the Courtyard for four years and tested positive for the virus a week ago, said she was frightened by the scope of the outbreak.
“My heart goes out to these people and I just want them to get all the support they can get,” said Ramos, who appealed on social media weeks ago for people to donate personal protective equipment to the home. “I feel like my mom and those residents deserve it because we are not out of the woods, not with this virus.”
Ramos said Courtyard’s administrator, Rory Blinn, holds Zoom meetings with relatives of residents three days a week and has been open about what is happening at the facility and the steps they are taking to curb the virus.
She said families were told that two staff members had also died from the virus. A spokeswoman for the company said “two beloved, long-term employees” had died recently, but one of them had not worked in the building since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and, to the best of the administration’s knowledge, neither had COVID-19.
“They will truly be missed by our staff and residents,” the spokeswoman, Lori Mayer, said in an e-mail. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the families.”
State Senator Patricia D. Jehlen, who represents Medford, described the facility as “among the worst impacted” of several nursing homes in her district she has been monitoring since the pandemic began.
Jehlen said she has been in regular contact with Blinn in recent weeks and has spoken with relatives of four residents who have become sick with COVID-19 but have not died. She said Blinn has been “very aggressive in trying to reach out for the kinds of assistance he needs.”
Blinn believed the coronavirus had begun to spread in the home after an infected resident was discharged from the hospital and returned to stay there, Jehlen said. She emphasized that the outbreak did not reflect the facility’s quality of care.
“Once it sets in, it is very hard to stop,” Jehlen said.
Tim Foley, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a union that represents 160 employees at the Medford home, said caregivers had been “working tirelessly with management to protect seniors and people with disabilities as well as themselves as they brush aside fear every day to provide care to our state’s most vulnerable.”
Feifer said Courtyard has diligently followed coronavirus guidelines and protocols and even adopted more stringent infection precautions than were initially required. Staff has been wearing full protective equipment since March 26, he said.
But the son of one resident expressed concern the staff doesn’t have the supplies it needs to keep the place and its residents sanitary.
“They don’t take care of hygiene. They don’t even have wipes to clean patients,” he said. He asked not to be identified to protect his mother’s privacy.
The speed of the outbreak was staggering, he said. In a single week, 34 people died.
“It was so fast, and I was so in shock,” he said.
Brian MacQuarrie of the Globe staff contributed.