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Peabody elders ‘affected more than average’

By Anne Marie Tobin | May 21, 2020

PEABODY — Life can be cruel during these COVID-19 times. Separation from family and friends. Long lines and limited inventory at grocery stores. Record-high unemployment rates. Face masks.

But in Peabody, life can be especially cruel when it comes to seniors who live in long-term care facilities.

It boils down to this; it all depends on where you live.

As of Monday, there were 940 cases of COVID-19 in Peabody. Of the 126 reported deaths, approximately 84 percent were residents living in the city’s six nursing homes, a much higher rate compared to approximately 61 percent statewide. As of May 17, nursing home/skilled care facility residents accounted for  3,534 of the state’s 5,797 total COVID-19 deaths with the average age being 82.

Compare and contrast the situation at Brooksby Village, where there has been only one reported death in a community of 1,800 residents and 900 employees, according to Dan Dunne, Director of External Communications for Erickson Living, the company that owns and manages Brooksby. The only victim was an independent living resident with underlying health conditions. Brooksby Village’s independent living population (of more than 1,600) represents about 90 percent of all residents. In addition, there are 189 residents who live in continuing care, which includes 90 residents in assisted care, 67 residents in skilled nursing and 32 residents in memory care.

“Peabody’s elders are being affected more than average,” said Health Director Sharon Cameron. “Congregant settings increase the risk of transmission, especially in skilled care facilities. Most of them (the six nursing homes in the city) are reporting more than 30 cases and one, I believe, has 10-30.”

Cameron said the health department cannot release facility-specific numbers, but that there have been no deaths among staff members, adding that she is seeing more stabilization since the department assigned public health nurses to each facility approximately in April.

“Numbers overall are trending down in cases confirmed and hospitalizations, but we are still being cautious as the state just changed guidelines on testing to determine asymptomatic cases, so we are likely to see an increase in cases,” Cameron said. “Also, as we start to open up, we will see more asymptomatic people with a greater chance of infecting others.”

Pilgrim Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center, a facility with 97 beds, has lost nine residents to the disease. It currently has nine active cases among residents and five active cases among staff members.

Pilgrim is one of 15 skilled care facilities owned and operated by Berkshire Healthcare Systems. Lisa Gaudet, Vice-President of Business Development and Marketing, said the first cases at Pilgrim were detected in early April, a time when testing was being conducted on a smaller scale.

“In the beginning, we were advised to only test people with symptoms,” she said. “It’s the asymptomatic piece that has affected counties near us compared to other areas,” adding that all residents and staff have now been tested and that Pilgrim continues to have “good infection control in place.”

Dunne said Erickson’s early response and access to essential resources, may be the reason Brooksby has been able to keep the disease off campus.

“Since early March, Brooksby Village has acted with an abundance of caution and implemented measures that meet or exceed CDC and local health department guidelines in response to this public health concern,” said Dunne.

“Based on recent news reports of nursing homes with COVID-19 related supply shortages, lapses in care, lack of transparency and inadequate infections control precautions, it is easy to see how some could presume these issues apply to any senior living provider. This is not the case at Brooksby.”

Dunne cited the company’s operating strengths, with its own medical group, primary care providers, and access to personal protective equipment, “has played an integral role in our effective management of this coronavirus,” adding that move-ins are occurring as scheduled

Residents have been advised to stay in their apartments and to wear masks if venturing outside their units. Dining rooms have been closed since mid-March, but four-course meals are delivered to residents on a daily basis. The facility is closed to non-essential visitors. The on-site salon, fitness center, pool and other activity areas are closed.

Residents living in city-owned elderly housing have fared far better than those living in private nursing homes.

“We have 362 residents over the age of 60 living in elderly housing and I have no knowledge of any current residents testing positive or passing away from COVID-19,” said Peabody Housing Authority Executive Director Anne Marie Burns.