A Cape Cod detox center has come under fire from staff members who allege that management is not adequately protecting them from the coronavirus, just weeks after an outbreak of 19 cases forced a companion facility to shut down temporarily.
Seven patients and six staff members have tested positive at the 50-bed Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth, with nearly all the cases recorded this month, according to five employees, all of whom said they wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
Those cases are in addition to the 19 patients and staff who tested positive Dec. 22 at nearby Gosnold Cataumet, an affiliated rehabilitation facility that is scheduled to reopen Friday.
Employees at the drug and alcohol treatment center also alleged that contact tracing has been spotty, with some workers learning through colleagues of positive patient cases before being informed by management. In addition, social distancing has been nearly impossible because bedrooms continue to contain two patients each, and common bathrooms are shared by four, staff members said.
“This is a company that has put our safety and well-being about 12th on their list of priorities,” one worker said in an interview. “I believe that Gosnold has failed not only its clients but also its employees . . . It’s been a systemic failure from top to bottom, almost from the beginning.”
Gosnold’s president. Richard Curcuru. defended the company’s safety precautions and notification protocol.
“We’ve notified staff as soon as we have known about a case,” Curcuru said. “Safety in our patients and staff is paramount.”
Curcuru said Gosnold has responded appropriately throughout the pandemic, including temporarily closing both the treatment center and 40-bed residential rehabilitation facility because of safety concerns.
The detox center reopened Monday after declining new admissions for four days. The rehab facility will reopen Friday, Curcuru said.
“We’re trying to stay committed to the community and to the patients who are really struggling out there,” Curcuru said. “We made a commitment from the beginning [of the pandemic] not to close our doors unless we really had to.”
However, an employee said, Curcuru on Wednesday did not alert the staff to a co-worker’s positive test until nearly 11 hours after the employee had shared the news with colleagues.
Curcuru’s e-mail was sent at 8:08 p.m. Wednesday, but night employees had not been called for contact tracing when their shift began three hours later, the staff member said.
Curcuru told the Globe he received confirmation of the positive test from Quest Diagnostics at 7:37 p.m. Wednesday, a half-hour before he notified the staff, and that contact tracing began Thursday morning.
In another case earlier this month, staff members said, management did not inform employees that a patient had contracted COVID-19 for nearly two days after the client tested positive at Falmouth Hospital.
The patient received a positive test result on Jan. 5, shortly after being taken to the hospital with COVID symptoms, the employees said. The patient was immediately discharged from Gosnold after the positive test, and co-workers shared the alarming news among themselves.
“When we first found out that [the patient] was positive, it was late in the evening after management had gone home,” an employee said. “The director of nursing was notified, and the first decision was to not inform that patient’s roommate and to take care of it the next morning.”
The roommate was not informed of exposure to COVID for 30 to 36 hours after the test, the employee added.
“For almost two full days, they didn’t say one word to anyone,” another worker said. “I think it’s horrible. I think we should have been notified by management that night.”
A few employees who spoke to the Globe, including some who said they had been exposed to the patient, said they still had not been contacted directly by management for tracing.
“We were sending e-mails questioning all of this. How was this allowed to happen, and why had nobody been notified?” one staff member asked. “I received no questions about who have you been working closely with, what clients, etc. I took it upon myself to tell everyone I worked with to let them know.”
Another worker recalled being taken aback by a supervisor’s advice for remaining safe.
“I was told that as long as you don’t have symptoms and wear your mask, you are fine and you should be OK,” the worker said.
Employees said they are concerned that the clients, who typically spend about four to eight days at the facility, are not being screened adequately when they arrive for admission.
Staff members said patients have their temperatures checked, and they are asked standard questions, such as whether they have tested positive or been exposed to COVID, and if they have traveled out of state recently.
Patients from Massachusetts are not asked to provide proof of a recent negative test, although out-of-state clients are required to show documentation. Although Massachusetts does not require that proof for admission to substance-abuse centers, Gosnold workers said the precaution seems necessary.
“It’s such a big community of people in constant, close proximity. That’s the only safe way to do this,” said one worker. “Right now, as long as you don’t have a fever, you’re in.”
Masks are required in the facility, but some patients refuse to wear them, employees said. And clients do not wear masks when they sleep, they said.
“It’s physically impossible to socially distance in there,” one worker said. “We do our best, but it’s really impossible.”
The employees who spoke to the Globe also alleged that the center had not been deep-cleaned on a regular basis since the pandemic began in March.
“I have seen nothing in the way of any deep cleaning or disinfecting or sanitizing, other than what you would get from a normal household cleaning,” one employee said.
Curcuru, however, said the facility is being cleaned at least once a day, sometimes twice.
He also said Gosnold has conducted 1,000 tests of patients and staff at its facilities since March, and that the relatively small number of positive cases in more than nine months is a testament to its safety plan. Any staff member who wants a test will receive one, he said.
“We’ve not had any significant issues,” Curcuru said. “If you think about it, we’ve only had six patients positive at the treatment center, and we have 50 beds.”
Several employees, however, think improvements are needed no matter how Gosnold’s numbers compare with those of other recovery centers.
“I just feel they’re not taking the proper precautions,” one employee said. “It’s just kind of a feeling that they don’t really care about us.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.