Rockport seniors hit hard by COVID

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. Den-Mar Health and Rehabilitation Center in Rockport. 5/27/20

ROCKPORT — Of all demographics hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, none have been struck as hard as the elderly population. In Rockport, that's especially true. 

Nearly half of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Rockport are at "Long Term Care Facilities and Congregate Living Facilities" — Den-Mar Health and Rehabilitation Center, Rockport High School Apartments, Pigeon Cove Ledges, Millbrook Park and Old Farm Inn. Of the 76 confirmed cases in town on Monday, 37 are living in such facilities.  

Only two seniors currently diagnosed with COVID-19 live outside Den-Mar; the assisted care facility on South Street was reportedly housing 35 COVID-19 patients on May 21. 

Thirteen Den-Mar residents have died as a result of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, confirmed by Steve Vera, CEO of Den-Mar's parent company, Wachusett Healthcare.

"The facility strictly follows allow protocols established by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health including the screening of staff prior to the start of their shifts and appropriately utilizing all available PPE," said Vera in an email.

According to an audit performed by the state Public Health department on May 15, Den-Mar was two points short of being in compliance with its 28-point Infection Control Checklist.  Of the 360 nursing facilities audited in Massachusetts, 132 were found not in compliance. Still, 119 facilities of scored more than 20 and were demerited for "missed core competency," such as improper personal protective equipment use.

"These areas were related to staff demonstration of proper PPE donning and doffing and PPE being worn appropriately for a COVID negative unit," said Vera. "All staff were re-educated on facility policies and procedures for the area where points were not captured." 

Residents who test positive for the virus are moved to a separate wing, explained Vera, and staff assess residents for symptoms multiple times per shift. Unfortunately, as of May 21, 23 members of Den-Mar's 60-person staff reportedly had the virus as well. They are reportedly not working at the facility and are quarantining at homes. 

"Den-Mar has been challenged, at times, with staffing due to staff having to be placed out of work for 10 days due to symptomatology based on CDC guidelines," said Vera. 

Staff healthy enough to work are screened for symptoms before clocking in and regularly receive in-service education for infection control practices, according to Den-Mar's website.

Rockport seniors living in apartments have been faring well, according to Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, which manages the Rockport High School Apartments and Pigeon Cove Ledges. Despite "scares" at the both complexes, he said there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 among their residents "to (their) knowledge."

"There's a lot of vulnerability," he continued. "We were very concerned about that early in the game. We revamped our whole maintenance and property response system to eliminate all personal contact."

To date, all on-site employees at Harbor Light's senior housing, such as property managers, facilities staff and service coordinators, are only connecting residents by phone, email or hand-written letter. All non-essential visitors are forbidden in the residences as well. Common areas have been shut down and new hand sanitizer stations line each hallway. 

"For the most part people have been doing a good job (with the new rules)," said DeFranza, "but it's been hard on them." 

Since the pandemic started, the town has worked to provide its senior population with personal protective equipment. In addition to keeping its assisted living facilities well-stocked, Council on Aging volunteers have delivered masks and other supplies to Rockport seniors living on their own.

"The town's Police Department elder affairs officer is also in regular contact with many seniors throughout town," said Town Administrator Mitch Vieira in an email.

"We are working closely with all of these locations on a regular basis and report out at each Board of Selectmen and Board of Health meeting," Vieira said of Den-Mar, Rockport High School Apartments, Pigeon Cove Ledges, Millbrook Park and Old Farm Inn. "The Council on Aging director is in regular contact with all facilities as well as liaisons from the Boards of Selectmen and Health and the public health nurses."

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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