BOSTON (SHNS) – The Baker administration moved Monday to cut nursing homes in Lowell, Worcester and Wareham from the MassHealth program after determining they failed to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, a step that could lead to their closures.
Health and Human Services officials sent initial termination notices to three facilities — Town and Country in Lowell, Hermitage Healthcare in Worcester, and Wareham Healthcare in Wareham — that demonstrated significant problems amid the public health crisis. Among other issues, the facilities failed to follow infection control practices such as separating COVID-positive residents from those who had not contracted the virus, maintained low staffing ratios “that jeopardized the health, safety and welfare of residents,” and in some cases, even refused help from the state during outbreaks of the virus.
The Worcester and Wareham facilities had already been identified by a state task force as among chronically low quality and low occupancy facilities in January, before the pandemic arrived. “As was documented by the statutorily created Nursing Facility Task Force, there are facilities with persistent quality concerns that remain ill-equipped to safely care for residents,” HHS said in a press release.
“These issues were further exacerbated during the pandemic and these facilities are not able to provide quality care, particularly in the event of a second surge.”
The termination notices are effectively the first step state officials can take to stop MassHealth payments to a facility, which could force a site to shutter, particularly if a majority of a facility’s residents are covered by MassHealth. All three facilities will have an opportunity to respond to the alleged violations and can request a hearing to dispute them.
Long-term care facilities, particularly nursing homes, have been among the areas most vulnerable to COVID-19. More than half of Massachusetts deaths from the virus occurred in long-term care facilities, according to public health data.
The Baker administration implemented new testing and oversight requirements on nursing homes during the crisis. By the fourth round of audits, officials said, 94 percent of facilities met the infection control requirements.