Liza Berger headshot
Liza Berger

Amid all the dark news emerging about the coronavirus and nursing homes, here’s a bright spot: Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Worcester County.

Since early April, the Massachusetts facility has been able to fill a unique role in the COVID-19 continuum: caring for COVID-19 patients discharged from the hospital. This story is a feel-good in various ways. Among them: The nursing home kept its own staff; the staff has adequate personal protective equipment and resources; the nearby hospital has provided needed infection control expertise; and it is not putting its own nursing home residents at risk with the chance that they will be exposed to the virus from hospital discharges.   

It is a situation that other top-flight nursing homes with similar profiles in comparable markets should emulate.

But here’s the catch: The nursing home didn’t do it alone. Matt Salmon, CEO of the company that owns Beaumont, told McKnight’s that it was the strength of the partnership among the various entities — the Department of Public Health, state Office of Health and Human Services, and UMass Memorial Medical Center — that made the transformation possible.

“We couldn’t have done it without the Department of Public Health and HHS,” he said. “Their help in managing waivers was critical to our success. What makes the project like this successful is an operator like us willing to take the risk; your Department of Public Health and HHS, who wanted to see this happen from a regulatory and oversight perspective; and support from a hospital that gave us insight into how the disease worked and how to set the building up,” Salmon said. “It got us to a stable and controlled position in terms of our infection control from the beginning.”

It was a big decision to make. Evacuating 139 residents safely is no small feat. Add to that the inevitable pushback from families and staff, and you’ve got a heavy lift. Fortunately, much of that early trepidation has been eased as residents are settling into their new homes, families have adapted, and staff are adjusting to their new facility.

“Staff feel good because they have PPE, they have good training and education, and are getting good support from the hospital,” Salmon said. “I think they were apprehensive and scared because no one really knew what it meant. There were moments of shock that they have, for the most part, recovered from.”

As for families? Most were understanding; about eight were livid. Not the worst breakdown, according to Salmon, whose grandparents started the business. He said the facility is only going to break even financially and that he did not feel he had a choice about converting the facility. “We understood the disruption this was going to have. We need to protect [residents’] physical health before we work on mental health. The alternative looked pretty bleak.”

He and the building took a leap of faith. In this crisis, whose destruction knows no bounds and which currently has no end in sight, linking arms and jumping may be the best way to survive it.

Liza Berger is Senior Editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.