Mass. Gov: COVID-19’s Impact on Top Nursing Homes Requires ‘Heavy-Duty Analytics’ to Explain

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday praised the operators of many post-acute and long-term care facilities facing COVID-19 outbreaks, calling for a deep data dive on what went wrong once the crisis passes.

“This is a topic that will get a lot of appropriate analysis after the fact,” Baker, a Republican, said during a daily coronavirus press briefing with other state officials. “I know a fair number of people who operate in that industry, and some of the folks who suffered some of the most dismaying, disturbing, and destructive outbreaks are terrific operators — and folks who literally have never had a demerit or an issue at any point in time with respect to the work they do.”

In particular, Baker pointed to the Belmont Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a facility that had seen 39 COVID-19 deaths as of last Friday, according to local media reports. That property, located in the Boston suburb of Belmont, Mass., has an overall five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Baker observed.

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The governor also cautioned against making any snap conclusions about what exactly went wrong in the outbreaks that have plagued facilities in Massachusetts and around the country.

“I think this is one that’s going to require some pretty heavy-duty analytics to figure out exactly a) what went wrong; b) what needs to be done on a go-forward basis to make sure it doesn’t happen again; and then c) to respect the fact that some of the folks who ended up in the worst spot on this were considered by their peers and by families and by everybody else as pretty high fliers and very positive players,” Baker said.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, gave some potential reasons for why even highly rated operators could have struggled to contain COVID-19. Sudders pointed to the state’s particularly old stock of nursing home real estate; many properties were given waivers to updated regulations, rolled out in the early 2000s, that required the use of single-resident rooms in long-term care facilities. As a result, many were unprepared logistically for social distancing efforts among residents, Sudders said.

Baker and Sudders also pointed to baseline, pre-pandemic statistics showing that each month, between 1,000 and 1,700 people die in Massachusetts nursing homes — data “which no one ever asked for, or was interested in,” Baker said.

A reporter asked if those figures represented nationwide numbers; Sudders confirmed that the 1,000-to-1,700 number includes only Massachusetts deaths, based on data going back to 2015.

“I’ve been collecting that data because I think sometimes reporting is that there’s never been a death in a nursing home, based on some of the reports I’ve been reading — how people would suggest we’re starting at zero deaths in nursing homes,” Sudders said.