CommonWealth Magazine

Bruce Mohl

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S point person on COVID-19 tried to provide some context on Wednesday for the rising number of deaths at nursing homes.

Marylou Sudders, the secretary of health and human services, said pre-COVID numbers going back to 2015 indicate 1,000 to 1,500 people typically die at nursing homes every month in Massachusetts.

By comparison, 1,205 people have died from COVID-19 at nursing homes so far in parts of March and April. On Wednesday, the state reported the highest one-day death toll from COVID-19 at nursing homes – 146. COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes now account for 55 percent of the state’s 2,182 COVID-19 deaths.

Sudders, at a State House press conference with the governor, indicated deaths are fairly common at long-term care facilities.

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

It was unclear from Sudders’s comments whether COVID-19 deaths are sharply increasing the overall death toll at nursing homes or whether nursing home residents are dying now from the coronavirus rather than other ailments. Spokespersons for Sudders were unable to provide additional information.

The Baker administration currently reports COVID-19 information about long-term care facilities two ways – aggregate industry information for deaths and data ranges for positive cases at specific facilities. The House passed legislation on Tuesday that would require the state to disseminate precise information on aggregate deaths and positive cases by facility on a daily basis.

Asked why the House was pushing legislation that would require the Baker administration to release the information in a different way, Baker said he didn’t know the motivation for the bill. But he indicated his administration has been releasing the information in a way that conforms with existing attitudes about patient confidentiality.

“The norms with respect to how we think about data and transparency because of what we’re dealing with in this pandemic are going to change,” Baker said. “Times like this people start thinking very differently about stuff that they historically haven’t really thought was a top level, needs-to-be-publicly-reported type of issue.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has pushed for the nursing home disclosure legislation, could not bge reached for comment.

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The lack of data on specific nursing homes sometimes leads to confusion. The state on Wednesday released a breakdown of COVID-19 cases by municipality for the second week in a row. One of the biggest gainers was Topsfield, which went from 16 to 76 cases and a very high rate of 1,300 infections per 100,000 people.

The bulk of that increase was due to a spike in cases at Masconomet Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Topsfield. According to a report Wednesday in the Salem News, the facility tested all 78 of its residents on Monday and 58 tested positive. Eleven have died. Town officials, who released the data, said the outbreak is isolated to the nursing home.

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