4 Berkshire County nursing homes redoubled efforts after state infection control audits

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In its mid-May audit, the state found four Berkshire County nursing homes out of compliance with some elements of a 28-point checklist for COVID-19 infection control.

All have fixed the problems, and in a new round of audits completed by May 29, all had received perfect scores.

With nursing homes in Massachusetts accounting for more than half of the state's coronavirus deaths, the Department of Public Health this month ordered inspections every two weeks to sleuth out safety weaknesses that could cause infections.

The state announced its COVID-19 Nursing Facility Accountability and Support Program on April 27. It includes $130 million to help control infections.

The checklist covers 28 infection-control points that include those of "core" importance, like the proper use of masks and other personal protective equipment. Other points include not allowing staff to rotate between floors, sick leave policies that are not punitive, and proper screening of residents for the virus.

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A facility then is scored for "adherence" to safety. Staff at those found lacking will undergo training.

In the Berkshires as of May 15, 11 facilities were inspected. The four found "not in adherence" are Berkshire Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Sandisfield; Kimball Farms Nursing Care Center in Lenox; Williamstown Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center; and Lee Healthcare.

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The problems at Kimball Farms and Williamstown Commons were immediately rectified, according to Lisa Gaudet, vice president of communications for the facility's parent company, Berkshire Healthcare. At Williamstown, 24 residents have died. The issue there, Gaudet said, was the quick shift in state regulations about the use of personal protective equipment.

At Kimball Farm, the problem was in the dementia unit, where some activities did not allow for enough distancing and some of those residents struggled to wear masks.

At Lee Healthcare, last week's new inspections resulted in a perfect score, said Janelle Fairbrother, vice president of administration for parent company Next Step Healthcare. Fairbrother said that what had knocked Lee out of compliance was one resident who wanted to sit alone and unmasked to play solitaire in what is typically a common area. Another was a resident undergoing therapy without wearing a mask because they couldn't breathe properly, though staff working with them were wearing masks.

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Fairbrother noted that the facility has not had a single infection.

Berkshire Rehabilitation initially was cited for staff not using personal protective equipment properly. Timothy Brown, director of marketing and communications for parent company Athena Health Care Systems, said the company is grateful for the state's help.

Yet, Brown and Fairbrother said the audits can be somewhat subjective, with multiple inspectors sometimes producing findings that differ.

The audit excludes facilities not enrolled in MassHealth, assisted living facilities, rest homes and dedicated COVID-19 nursing homes. The full list of the most recent audits can be found on the DPH website.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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