Salmon Health Begins Transferring Residents to Create Dedicated COVID-19 Skilled Nursing Facility

The office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday announced several initiatives to combat the COVID-19 crisis in the Bay State — one of which includes setting up skilled nursing facilities dedicated to caring for patients who have the disease.

The first of these facilities, Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester, Mass., operated by Salmon Health and Retirement, is planning to have all current residents placed in other locations by Wednesday.

The facility could receive its first COVID-19 patients as early as Thursday of this week, Salmon Health and Retirement chief marketing officer Rich Gordon told Skilled Nursing News via e-mail.

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Channel 4 WBZ — CBS Boston first reported the news about the Beaumont facility on March 28.

The facility will be taking patients from hospitals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have stabilized, but still need nursing facility care, according to a March 27 letter from Marylou Sudders, secretary of Heath and Human Services for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Implementing these transfers will require significant coordination between the Commonwealth, hospitals, nursing facilities, and chronic disease rehabilitation facilities, as well as resident communities and their families,” the letter noted. “To establish dedicated COVID-19 care sets at these nursing and rehabilitation facilities, it will require existing residents to temporarily move to other facilities in the area, where they will continue to receive nursing home care.”

This is crucial, given how rapidly the virus can spread in the skilled nursing setting. A March 18 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the virus can spread rapidly in the long-term care setting, as shown by the outbreak in the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Kirkland, Wash., that in a week managed to infect 81 of the 130 residents.

Massachusetts is “actively seeking additional facilities to serve as dedicated COVID-19 sites of care,” and the state’s Medicaid program and private insurers are working with nursing facilities to set up the financing structures to support that work, the letter also noted.

The federal government has also eased restrictions around transfers as part of its efforts to meet predicted demand for care: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) over the weekend issued updated guidance waiving certain restrictions around transferring long-term care residents to alternate sites of care — or even part of the same facility.

“This is consistent with recent CDC guidance, and helps residents with COVID-19 by placing them in units or facilities that are prepared to care for them,” according to a CMS fact sheet released Saturday. “It also helps residents without COVID-19 by placing them in units or facilities without other COVID-19 residents, thus helping to protect them from being infected.”

The Salmon-operated facility is located close to UMass Memorial Medical Center, which said in a release that the SNF was making the transition “at our request and that of the state in an effort to ensure not only their well-being, but that of the many patients who will be brought to hospitals in Worcester County for care and relief from COVID-19.”

“Because we have not seen the peak of COVID-19, our planning must continue to ensure we are in the strongest position possible to care for these critically ill patients,” the hospital said.

To help establish the designated COVID-19 SNFs, Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Monica Bharel issued a waiver dated March 28 for some of the regulations related to the transfer and discharge of residents of long-term care facilities that are going to be used for COVID-19 patients. The waiver will be in effect until Bharel rescinds it or until the state of emergency in Massachusetts — declared on March 10 — is terminated by Baker.

The designation of Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center as a COVID-19 facility will bring 300 SNF beds online in central Massachusetts, according to the Monday announcement from Baker.

There have been more than 3,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, according to an announcement on March 27.

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