GREAT BARRINGTON — A resident poised to leave a Great Barrington nursing home for more than a week remains stuck there, due, in part, to COVID-19 staffing gaps affecting care centers across the state.
The situation, and others like it revealed by families to The Eagle, is an example of how the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting care for the frail and elderly in places like the Fairview Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
“We’re trying to get [them] out,” said a relative of the Fairview Commons resident, who declined to be identified to protect their family member’s privacy.
As of Thursday, the resident remained unable to leave because a social worker was out sick, another retired last month and the case now faces administrative delays by MassHealth.
Social workers typically are the staffers who make what can be complex arrangements to release residents. Those arrangements are considered critical to a resident’s well-being and need to be completed before a discharge, a process that staff COVID-19 infections can disrupt through no fault of a facility.
The nursing home’s director told the resident’s family that they will let the person go, but only “against medical advice,” which would result in leaving without medications and other services, the relative said.
A social worker consultant has been brought in, and the company will work to resolve the issue with this resident, said Lisa Gaudet, vice president of business development and marketing for Berkshire Healthcare, which owns Fairview Commons and five other nursing homes in Berkshire County.
The relative said the other social worker recovered and began helping them, but that the initial delays have set them back, and now they face “red tape” with MassHealth.
In the past two weeks, the nursing home has seen one resident and 13 staffers test positive, Gaudet said. About five of the staffers are back at work.
As of Wednesday, four Fairview Commons staff members were positive, according to the company’s daily report.
The facility did not request extra staffing help from the state Department of Public Health because it was able to cover the staffers who were out, Gaudet said. Any of the residents can have visitors, even if quarantining.
The resident’s relative said they have been receiving calls “almost daily” from the facility since late last month, notifying them of coronavirus positive cases. They contacted The Eagle when they did not see the case counts in its Tuesday reporting.
The cases did not show up in Berkshire Healthcare’s online reports for early January; it also did not reflect the state Department of Public Health’s elder facilities Jan. 11 report, which did not list known cases at other facilities.
Gaudet said theirs was a website glitch.
“We update it every day,” she said.
Amid the county’s surging caseloads attributed to the more contagious but less dangerous omicron strain, most nursing homes appear to be escaping the wrath.
High vaccination rates appear to be preventing serious illness and death. But, positive cases result in the temporary loss of staff. The pandemic resulted in staffing that fell, in most Berkshire County nursing homes — including Fairview Commons, to levels below those recommended by regulators.
Staffing has been a struggle at Fairview Commons, which regulators have fined $57,800 for violations since 2019.
The relative of the Fairview Commons resident said they are sympathetic to the pandemic challenges the nursing home faces, but also hopes for community solutions to the larger, long-standing staffing issues recently reported by The Eagle.
“I just want transparency right now,” the relative said.
It isn’t the first time staff shortages have contributed to a longer-than-needed stay in a nursing home.
Sharon Dunn’s husband, who had a recent brief stay at North Adams Commons Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, had to remain an extra week because there was no one available to properly order his take-home medical equipment. She finally demanded that a unit manager write the order.
“After two weeks, he was medically ready to be discharged. There was NO ONE TO DISCHARGE HIM,” she wrote in an email to The Eagle, also saying that she felt she had to be present daily to ensure his care and safety, and did much of the caretaking herself. Dunn said she is grateful to the remaining staff at the North Adams center who, she said, had gone above and beyond to help.
“An entire extra week he was there while they had no one to write a proper order,” Dunn wrote. “Without me as his advocate, my husband might still be there, with his health deteriorating.”
Gaudet said that this particular situation was caused by a combination of factors that were not all owing to the facility. The family had requested a quicker release than expected, and the issue with the order delayed his release.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” she said, acknowledging that it wasn’t an ideal scenario. “Everybody had a role to play.”