More than 80 different long-term-care facilities in Massachusetts have each recorded at least 20 COVID-19 deaths among residents, a sign of the pandemic’s widespread toll on facilities that care for the elderly and disabled, according to state data released Wednesday night.
It is the first time Baker administration officials have divulged details of the deaths at nursing homes and rest homes that have contributed to the staggering mortality rate among the state’s older residents. Of the 6,547 deaths in Massachusetts reported as of Wednesday, nearly 62 percent — or 4,041 — were residents of these long-term-care facilities.
For months, state officials had resisted pleas for more information from residents and their families. The release comes after the Globe, and other media, filed public-records requests for the data. The disclosure also comes as federal health authorities, who recently began collecting virus data from long-term-care facilities nationally, were preparing to make it public by the end of the month.
The figures released Wednesday show that about one out of five nursing homes or rest homes in the state experienced at least 20 deaths.
Officials from the Baker administration didn’t respond to questions on why they waited until now to release the site-specific death data.
Instead, they released a statement saying, “Massachusetts produces one of the most comprehensive public data reports in the nation. . . . As we have said throughout, we will continue to improve and enhance the release of public health data throughout our response to this pandemic.”
Some of the homes on the state’s list are well-known, but others have not been previously identified in media reports as institutions with high COVID-19 fatalities.
Among the facilities with the highest number of deaths were the Leavitt Family Jewish Home in Longmeadow, with 66 deaths; Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center in Lawrence with 64; Courtyard Nursing Care Center in Medford with 60; Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with 55; and Katzman Family Center For Living in Chelsea with 52.
Also high on the list were Eastpointe Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Chelsea with 47 deaths; Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody with 45; Quincy Health & Rehabilitation Center with 42; Baypointe Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Brockton with 39; CareOne at Randolph with 36; and Alliance Health at West Acres in Brockton with 36.
State officials disclosed the nursing home totals on the day the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to an official count from Johns Hopkins University. Massachusetts officials on Wednesday reported 74 new deaths and 527 new cases, bringing the total infection count to 94,220.
Wednesday’s disclosure had multiple gaps, suggesting the number of deaths in senior care may be significantly higher than state health officials are reporting. The state also relied on self-reported death numbers from nursing home operators, and it was unclear as of Wednesday night if all facilities reported.
The new data didn’t include the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, the state’s largest outbreak with 76 deaths and one of the worst coronavirus hot spots in the country. That home is now on a separate list of state-operated facilities. Also missing were deaths at assisted living facilities and publicly financed senior living residences, which house thousands of older Massachusetts residents but have different regulators.
The numbers starkly illustrate how thoroughly the virus has penetrated senior housing and how the operators of long-term-care sites, following state and federal guidance that many called inadequate, have failed to protect their most vulnerable population in the largest public health crisis of the past century.
Contributing to the failings were an initial lack of understanding of how the virus can be spread by those who don’t show symptoms, a late start to testing residents and staff, and continuing shortages of protective gear for nurses and other caregivers. Whether the sites are prepared to withstand a second wave of outbreaks is unclear.
“There’s still a lot of potential for another outbreak in these facilities,” said Harvard Medical School professor David Grabowski, who studies long-term care. “We know more now, but it’s still not clear we have enough tests and personal protective equipment to keep this out of buildings going forward.”
Operators of long-term-care facilities, responding to questions by the Globe, said the virus entered their facilities despite their best efforts to keep it at bay. Many had already received a Globe survey last week, asking directly how many deaths occurred among residents in their facilities and telling of plans to publish the data.
While the state did not release any of its death data for assisted living places, the Globe’s survey did reach out to those facilities and so far identified at least several significant outbreaks. The Falls at Cordingly Dam in Newton has had 28 deaths among residents, and two others had about half that number -- Benchmark Senior Living at Waltham Crossings with 14 and Heights Crossing in Brockton with 13 deaths.
Among nursing homes, that survey found a number of facilities operated by Genesis HealthCare, a major national chain, have seen 20 or more COVID-19 deaths among residents. These sites include Agawam, Andover, Chelmsford, Revere, and Medford.
“We are learning as a nation now how incredibly challenging it is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly once it enters a nursing home environment — regardless of how restrictive and rigorous the prevention efforts have been,” said Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer of Genesis HealthCare.
Life Care Centers of America, another chain that operates multiple long-term-care facilities across Massachusetts, has numerous sites with 20 or more deaths among residents, including homes in Billerica, Raynham, Lynn, Auburn, and Littleton.
Despite a clamor from the families of residents for more information, state officials withheld site-specific death tolls during the past two months that they had collected, sometimes citing privacy concerns. Nine states are already reporting fully comprehensive data on cases and deaths at the facility level, including Illinois and Oregon, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Feifer of Genesis Healthcare also cited recent research findings to highlight two factors that have influenced the spread of the coronavirus in long-term-care facilities: “First, the size of a facility — the larger it is, the more traffic in and out, no matter how many restrictions are in place. And second, its location — whether the surrounding community is a high-density area heavily affected by COVID-19. This corresponds with our experience in Massachusetts and across the country.”
Another important factor is dementia, Feifer noted. “Many of the residents in these centers have dementia, making precautions and restrictions difficult to enforce,” he said.
One other element influencing the data is the number of COVID-19-positive patients who have been admitted to nursing homes from hospitals or other places, administrators say, making it unclear where the virus was contracted.
A spokesman for Life Care Centers of America emphasized that at all of its sites, the chain has followed state and federal guidelines. “Despite our best efforts, the coronavirus entered some of our facilities,” the Life Care spokesman said. “While a lack of timely information from government agencies, constraints on the availability of testing, and concerns for sufficient PPE are ongoing, there is only one place to lay the blame for this pandemic: on the virus.”
Looking forward, nursing-home operators said they will do everything they can to continue to combat the pandemic. Stringent visitation restrictions, sufficient supplies of PPE, and frequent testing of residents and staff will be key to that effort, said Genesis’s Feifer. “The importance of regular and repeated testing with quick turnaround times cannot be underestimated,” he said. “It allows us to separate those who are positive from those who are negative, saving lives.”
Liz Kowalczyk of the Globe staff also contributed to this report.
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