By Caroline Colarusso
Last week I lost my dear aunt after she tested positive for the Coronavirus. She was 89 years old,and was living in a nursing home. She was in relatively good health, had all her faculties, could walk and take care of herself and had a very high quality of life. She was widowed in mid-life, had 4 children, 13 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren. My aunt was part of a most vulnerable group susceptible to COVID 19, those in care facilities in Massachusetts. She should not be remembered as a statistic but rather a loving daughter, mother, aunt, sister, grandma and great grandma. What is taking place in Massachusetts nursing homes acts is disgraceful and unacceptable as more than half of the deaths in our state from the Coronavirus have been in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Once older people become infected the outcomes are extremely poor. This is simply not acceptable especially to the families of the loved ones who perished. More should have been done to protect those in nursing homes.
Most tragic in the death totals of nursing homes is the Holyoke Soldiers Home where 67 veterans diedfrom the Coronavirus – the highest death toll in all of New England. Last week the Boston Globe reportedthat the Justice Department has opened an investigation in the home which was already under investigation by state officials. It was also reported that a whistleblower within the home contacted the Holyoke Mayor regarding the facility. The Justice Department has jurisdiction under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act which allows for federal officials to step in.
It took the tragic deaths of so many seniors who served this country for House members on Beacon Hill who just last week passed a bill to require long term care facilities and assisted living facilities to share reports on COVID 19 cases. House members should have had the wherewithal and foresight to require that such reports be shared publicly long before so many seniors in nursing homes perished. They act quickly when they want to – recall the first session of 2016 when they voted themselves a 40% pay raise in lightning speed.
Another state agency, the Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification, is responsible for nursing home inspections in Massachusetts. These homes are supposed to be inspected at least every 9-15 months for staffing, quality of care, and cleanliness. Every 9 to 15 months does not seem adequate for facilities that serve such a large number of vulnerable people in close quarters many of whom need very high level and frequent care. These parameters need to change.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts needs to take a long hard look at the ways it responds to a public health crisis to protect our most vulnerable citizens;those who can’t advocate for themselves, the frail and elderly. It needs to do a much better job communicating to municipalities and working in coordination with local communities. It seems to me that communities are left to fend for themselves while state legislators enjoy comfortable benefits while neglecting the public they are elected to serve.
Special thanks to the compassion of an MGH nurse who was there to be with my aunt in her last moments. She informed us that Auntie Chickiepassed peacefully. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett next to my mother who was her sister. No family or friends could pay their respects, no eulogy, no flowers, no church service, no long goodbyes. This should not be.
The views in this column are my own. Please use phone or email to contact me. I can be reached by phone at (781)438-5720 or email at ContactCarolineforinfo@gmail.com