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BOSTON – AARP Massachusetts has sent a letter to the Governor seeking the names of senior facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases made public.

AARP Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker making that request yesterday, April 7.

“We urge Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health to release publicly the names of nursing facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases,” wrote AARP Massachusetts on behalf of its 775,000 AARP members in Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has not been releasing this data to the public, although some information has been made public by the veterans homes and private facilities.

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“Contrary to concerns that such disclosures would violate a patient’s health privacy, we do not believe HIPAA precludes a state health agency from releasing the names of facilities because a facility is not a covered entity as defined by federal law. We believe transparency and notice to the public is critical for public health,” wrote AARP Massachusetts.

“Moreover, caregivers and family members need and deserve to have this information for their own health decisions and as they consider possible next steps and interventions for their loved ones,” wrote AARP Massachusetts.

In Framingham, two senior facilities have had positive cases – Shillman House in Nobscot and Mary Ann Morse at Heritage, again in the Nobscot section of the City.

SOURCE posted about all four positive cases, but the information originally came from residents & employees, and confirmed by the owners, and not from the City of Framingham nor the Commonwealth. The City of Framingham has refused to release this information.

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“To be clear, we are not advocating for the disclosure of any HIPAA protected patient information. However, we do believe that disclosure of the names of nursing facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases would benefit the health of Massachusetts residents by allowing people to make informed choices,” wrote AARP Massachusetts in his letter to the Governor on April 7.

“We deeply appreciate the state’s focus on protecting the health and safety of our state’s older population, nursing home residents and LTSS recipients, which is paramount. We are, however, very concerned that current state guidance does not adequately protect nursing home residents during this public health emergency,” wrote AARP Massachusetts to Gov. Baker.

AARP Massachusetts wrote “Nursing home residents are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Many residents need assistance with activities of daily living due to physical and/or cognitive limitations. Moving these residents from their nursing homes can be unsafe and/or traumatic for them and their families, particularly when a move is involuntary and sudden.”

“Transfer from a facility can have both immediate and longer term negative impacts on a resident’s health. Many nursing home residents, especially those who are cognitively impaired, develop a physical, psychological and emotional dependence upon their surroundings and any disruption to this environment can cause serious emotional and psychological damage and physical stress,” wrote AARP Massachusetts. “Moreover, transfer without offering appropriate and effective counseling and planning can lead to isolation and despair and the lack of predictability maximizes fear and anxiety.”

Yesterday, April 7, the Baker-Polito administration announced a nursing home mobile testing program and a resource line for caregivers & families to support older adults living in long-term care facilities.

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The Baker-Polito Administration said it has a safe, rapid on-site testing of residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes and rest homes initiative that will be a partnership between the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Massachusetts National Guard, with the testing being conducted by the BROAD institute.

As of yesterday, the National Guard has been deployed to 80 facilities across the state and has completed more than 1,300 tests, said the Baker-Polito administration.

“During these times of great uncertainty, when families are prevented from visiting their loved ones in a facility, we believe nursing homes should be required to provide proactive communications to the primary caregiver(s) of nursing home residents regarding their physical and emotional health and more general updates with information for families. We urge the state to modify its guidance to reflect that nursing homes must also create additional or increase listserv communications; assign staff as primary contact for families; offer a phone hotline for family members to get information about their loved one’s care, and establish other opportunities to maintain communication between residents and their families,” wrote AARP Massachusetts.

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“We urge the state to adopt similarly strong language with regards to residents and their family members and family caregivers residing in other long term supportive service settings and residential settings, such as assisted living facilities and rest homes,” wrote AARP Massachusetts.

“We are concerned that nursing home residents going weeks or even months without any visits from loved ones is extremely serious, and the state directives should reflect this by requiring nursing homes to prioritize virtual visits and caregiver communications,” wrote AARP Massachusetts to the Governor.

Yesterday, the Baker-Polito administration announced the launch of a new Nursing Home Family Resource Line, a dedicated telephone line that will connect family members of nursing home and rest home residents with the information and resources they need.

The line is staffed from 9 AM – 5 PM, seven days a week. Staff will coordinate across state agencies to help callers find answers to their questions. 

Families and community members can call the line at (617) 660-5399.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health ordered that skilled nursing facilities should “restrict all non-essential visitors”, but didn’t make an allowance for virtual visitation, said AARP Massachusetts.

The state’s guidance also contains a restriction on visitation, but only advises that facilities “should consider” offering “alternative means of communication for people who would otherwise visit, such as virtual communications (phone, video- communication, etc.).” added the organization.

“During this stressful and difficult time when in-person visitation is very restricted, we strongly recommend that Massachusetts immediately modify its guidance to require nursing homes to offer and facilitate reasonable and practicable alternative means of communication for individuals who would otherwise visit, such as virtual communications. Such virtual visits can be essential to the emotional, mental, physical, and social well-being of nursing home residents. For some residents, these virtual visits may be the difference between life and death,” wrote AARP Massachusetts to the Governor.

“Given the widespread adoption of video-chat options (from FaceTime to Skype to Zoom and so on), AARP Massachusetts believes these virtual visitations must include the ability to communicate on video, not only for the emotional well-being of the resident, but also so family caregivers can ensure their loved ones are being well cared for. If funding is needed to ensure video-chat options, we encourage the provision of such funding and consideration of how such communications could be part of telehealth,” said the organization in its letter.

By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.