Months into pandemic, number of deaths of nursing home workers is unclear

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Separately, representatives from the four facilities told the Globe none of their workers had died of COVID-19. They are Den-Mar Health and Rehabilitation Center in Rockport, Medway Country Manor Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, Blueberry Hill Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Beverly, and Wingate at Weston.

Lisa Coppola, administrator at Medway Country Manor, said she inadvertently reported the deaths of nine employees to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes.

“I just put the wrong data in,” she said.

Tara Gregorio, president of Massachusetts Senior Care, a trade association for long-term care facilities, said separate reports submitted to the state show 22 nursing home workers had died as of June 1.

“This only strengthens our resolve as a profession and a Commonwealth to do our utmost to protect our staff and residents from this insidious virus,” she said.

Apart from the erroneous reports of the deaths of 67 workers, nursing homes in Massachusetts reported that 20 employees had died of COVID-19. Four facilities reported that two workers had died and 12 nursing homes reported the death of a single worker.

The state Department of Public Health said it is calculating the correct death toll and plan to report the findings publicly. DPH expects the number will be “significantly lower” than the 87 deaths reported to the federal government.

The state said it plans to work with facilities that reported inaccurate data, noting that some nursing homes were confused by the federal requirements.

“One of the many gut-wrenching outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the impact on nursing home residents and staff,” a spokesman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center said in a statement. “The deaths of nursing home staff who worked heroically, under extraordinary circumstances, and cared for some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents during their greatest hour of need, have also been tragic.”

The federal report stemmed from new regulations that required nursing homes to report COVID-19 cases in their facilities and offered the first national snapshot of infections and deaths at more than 13,600 nursing homes nationwide.

Massachusetts began providing weekly reports on resident deaths by facility on May 27 but has not disclosed how many nursing home workers have died. Fatalities of nursing home patients are reported daily.

During a call with reporters on Thursday, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said she expected the figures would reflect “honest errors” in data entry.

“We’re going to be continuing to work on scrubbing the data,” Verma said. About 88 percent of the nation’s 15,400 nursing homes reported COVID-19 data to the federal government, she said.

But David Grabowski, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, said many of the reporting errors will likely go undetected.

“These reporting errors in Massachusetts were identified because they involved staff deaths, and the mistakes by the four facilities moved the overall state totals dramatically,” he said. “If a facility made the same reporting errors with nursing home resident deaths, it would likely go undetected because these deaths are much more common. I would assume that the data contain many of these errors that we will never identify.”

The federal figures likely underestimate the number of deaths because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said facilities weren’t required to report cases in residents and workers before May 1, although many of them did.

Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, said it was shocking that so many nursing home workers had died from the virus and that their deaths could have been prevented.

“Had these workers been provided with the personal protective equipment they deserve from the beginning, we would have saved lives,” she said.

Paul Moore, 61, of Wrentham was infected with COVID-19 and died April 15 at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Centerin Brighton. He was hospitalized after reporting to work for the last time April 1 at Charlwell House Health and Rehabilitation Center in Norwood, where he was the maintenance director and had worked for 25 years, said his widow, Marlene.

Paul Moore

The virus has killed 22 patients at the facility, according to state numbers released Wednesday. But CMS data shows Charlwell House had two patient deaths and no worker fatalities.

Marlene Moore said she developed the virus after her husband fell ill, but recovered. She said he was deeply committed to his work.

“That was his second home and he cared about the home,” she said. “He cared about the elderly. He didn’t want to call out sick because other people were out sick. He said, ‘They really need me.’”

There have been intermittent reports of COVID-19 deaths in workers at Massachusetts nursing homes.

On April 11, two workers died of the virus: Kettely Desire, a certified nursing assistant at Alliance at West Acres in Brockton, and Maria Krier, a licensed practical nurse at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton.

Life Care Centers of America, the chain that employed Krier, also reported five other worker deaths at facilities in Scituate, Billerica, andAttleborough. The company owns Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state, the site of the country’s first known outbreak of COVID-19.

A chain spokesman said the deceased worker in Scituate and one of the deceased workers in Billerica were part-time employees and both held full-time jobs at different nursing homes.

“Our staff at these facilities are grieving,” said Timothy Killian, the spokesman. “These are not just numbers to us; these are people who were part of our Life Care family. All of those who have risked their lives to care for others are heroes.”

Other victims were Catherine Drouin, a social worker at the Palm Center nursing home in Chelmsford, and Cindy Locklear, a licensed practical nurse at Marlborough Hills Rehabilitation & Health Care Center. Drouin’s death wasn’t reported in the federal data.

Cory Bombredi, a union representative for SEIU Local 888, which represents most employees at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, said no workers at the facility have died. Seventy-six veterans at the nursing home have died of the virus, making it the deadliest known outbreak in a US nursing home.

“Any workers just coming to work, doing their jobs at an underpaid rate, definitely don’t deserve to contract COVID-19,” Bombredi said.

Marlene Moore said she wasn’t able to say goodbye to her husband in person because she was battling the virus at the same time. She said reached him by phone the day he died.

“It happened so quickly and unexpectedly,” Moore said. “It was just really sad. He probably wouldn’t have died that young if it wasn’t for the coronavirus.”

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.

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