Admissions have been halted at a skilled nursing facility that was part of one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks as state officials raise major concerns about a new round of infection and deaths there.

The situation at Limecrest Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, a 159-bed facility in Northern New Jersey, demonstrates just how dangerous COVID still is for vulnerable seniors and other patients who call skilled nursing facilities home.

Since September, 66 staff members and residents have been sickened by the virus, with seven residents dying, New Jersey health officials said last week.

That news and an order to restrict admissions and bring in additional nursing and infection control oversight at Limecrest came as vaccination coverage at nursing homes across the US has fallen to a dangerous low.

Providers have been struggling this fall to get their hands on enough vaccines to cover residents and to offer updated shots for healthcare workers, who are no longer obligated under a vaccination requirement. In some facilities, providers have described having to prioritize some residents over others.

Nationally, just 25% of nursing home residents are considered up-to-date on their COVID shots, meaning they have received all recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine for which they are eligible. Staff coverage, meanwhile, has fallen to just 6% of all workers nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the week ending Nov. 19..

The news among residents in New Jersey is slightly better, with some 37% up-to-date, as reported by the CDC.

Vaccine hesitancy “continues to be a concern and a barrier,” James W. McCracken, president & CEO of LeadingAge NJ & DE told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Monday afternoon.

“Many people are suspect of getting additional vaccinations. This is not specific to long-term care,” he said. “I have heard of some limited supply issues, but they get resolved. Our pharmacy partners have done a fantastic job. The NJ Department of Health has regular meetings with the associations representing long-term care providers and has focused on educating the industry and community on the advantages of getting vaccinated.”

Still, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data, which lags the CDC information by several weeks, casts a pall over any vaccination efforts at Limecrest. According to Care Compare, no residents at the facility are up-to-date, though 30.7% of residents statewide were by Oct. 29.

Information on the facility’s status and any additional cases or deaths was not available Monday. The state health department did not respond to a McKnight’s request for additional details, and a message left for Limecrest Administrator Sonia Velmonte was not returned by deadline. 

According to CMS records, Velmonte has been managing the facility since 2017.  It previously operated as O’Brien Place at the same address and was part of the Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center at Andover.

The buildings were renamed after an early 2020 COVID outbreak that left bodies piled up in a makeshift morgue and led to allegations of chronic understaffing. Eventually, 83 residents died in that first outbreak.

The larger building, which at the time was the state’s largest provider of Medicaid nursing beds, closed as it faced CMS-decertification in 2022. 

A health department spokeswoman last week told NJ Advance Media that state officials are requiring Limecrest to hire a consultant to manage the facility and bring in other professionals to monitor and direct nursing and infection control practices before any additional residents can be admitted.

NJ Advance also reported that Limecrest’s owners are “in negotiations” to sell the facility, which has a 4-star overall rating.