Coronavirus outbreaks at New Hampshire facilities serving the elderly continue unabated. Just two days after state officials announced a major outbreak of COVID-19 cases at a Manchester long-term care facility, the number increased from 51 to 84, with four deaths attributed to the coronavirus.
The outbreak at the Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center is one of many among long-term care facilities across the state affecting residents and staff. NHPR reporter Casey McDermott has been tracking state data over the last several weeks, and the cumulative cases to date include 138 at Hanover Hill in Manchester, 120 at Pleasant Valley Nursing Center in Derry, and 72 at Crestwood Center in Milford.
The state has increased testing at long-term care facilities and plans to complete testing at all facilities in the near future. Public health guidelines require residents who test positive for the virus to be separated from others. But, according to Melissa St. Cyr, chief legal counsel for N.H. Dept. of Health and Human Services, risk is inherent in the way the facilities operate, despite numerous precautions.
“Although there are visitation limitations, so that you're not introducing the virus, there are still many, many, many people coming in and out of nursing homes every day to actually care for these residents, so there is an opportunity to introduce the virus from members of the public,” St. Cyr said on The Exchange.
(For the full Exchange conversation, visit here.)
Those visitation limits will continue, St. Cyr said, although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently began allowing a phased approach to reopening long-term care facilities. “We're not at a place where we can start reopening, and visitations will need to be limited, and all the restrictions that have been put in place will need to remain, until we see those numbers decrease.”
The state's Bureau of Licensing and Certification investigates outbreaks, St. Cyr said. “If deficiencies are found, then the facility would be cited for the deficiency.” More egregious cases, including any that result in some type of harm, involve fines, she said. The state has not issued any fines recently, she said, but there are ongoing investigations with results pending.
Susan Buxton, the state's long-term care ombudsman, says her office has seen an increase in calls from families who are frustrated by visitation limits, concerned about the effects of social isolation on their loved ones and by sometimes sporadic communication with staff.
“When this pandemic started people were really supportive of what needed to be done. I think people are frightened and continue to be frightened. The long-term care facilities are very vulnerable to the virus. But we're going on two months now and we're starting to hear some fatigue with the isolation. And that's concerning.”