An outbreak of coronavirus at a Massachusetts nursing home for veterans has left almost 70 residents dead and others still fighting the disease. This sad development from the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is the deadliest known outbreak so far at an American long-term care facility.
An investigation by federal officials is now underway into whether the residents there were given proper medical care, and legal action is a possibility in this case.
So far, 68 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died there, while the coronavirus status of another resident who recently died at the facility is unknown. A further 82 residents have tested positive, along with 81 employees. According to the Boston Globe, new deaths are reported from the outbreak nearly every day.
The superintendent of the facility, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on administrative leave. Walsh said that officials knew the home was experiencing staffing shortages, and it’s a problem that the home had been dealing with for many years. One nurse who worked there said the issue was a major factor in the spread of the virus.
Tight staffing meant that workers were constantly being shuffled between units, passing germs around from area to area. One unit was even shut down for a time because of a lack of staff, with the veterans living there being moved into close quarters in a different area of the building.
The nurse, Joan Miller, told the AP that “Veterans were on top of each other.” She added that they didn’t know which people had tested positive for the disease, and grouping them all together just made matters worse. Miller said she tested negative for the disease in early April but has not been given another test since then.
Now the situation is more contained – but that’s only because there are so few veterans remaining at the facility as so many have died. The home, which had 230 residents at the end of March, now has just around 100. Before the outbreak, nearly a third of the residents there were aged 90 and above and needed care around the clock.
Some family members of residents have expressed frustration about a lack of communication. Unable to visit in person, their questions by phone often went unanswered.
Experts say the death toll is the biggest seen at a long-term care facility in the U.S., and the case illustrates just how unprepared many of the country’s nursing home facilities are. An outside attorney is investigating the deaths, while Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has also launched an investigation to determine whether legal action is appropriate in this case. The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office are also looking into whether the rights of residents were violated by not providing them with proper medical care.
It’s not known just how many people have died from COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes because the federal government only recently started requiring nursing homes to report the numbers of confirmed and presumed deaths as well as infections; those figures have yet to be published.
However, according to data compiled by the Associated Press from media reports and state health departments, nearly 14,000 people have died from nursing home and long-term care facility outbreaks in the U.S. They caution, however, that the real number is likely much higher as only half of states have been reporting deaths in nursing homes and not all of them are counting people who died without getting tested.
As states move toward resuming normal life, it’s essential that they keep this type of tragedy in mind and take measures to prevent future incidents like this from occurring.
Sources for this article include: