Home > Uncategorized > Coronavirus has now claimed 2 lives in DDS system, and the Department still needs a plan

Coronavirus has now claimed 2 lives in DDS system, and the Department still needs a plan

With the first two deaths recorded in group homes and with dozens of residents and staff now infected with the coronavirus, COFAR is renewing its call for the Baker administration to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent what might be a catastrophic outbreak of the virus throughout the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system.

COFAR is also calling for COVID-19 testing for all residents and staff and the immediate deployment of cleaning teams to group homes even if it takes a special appropriation.

WGBH reported yesterday (April 3) that two DDS clients have now died from COVID-19 infections.

In addition, DDS told WGBH News that as of Friday, an additional 67 individuals receiving DDS services and 71 employees working for DDS providers had tested positive for COVID-19. The news organization noted that is a roughly 50% increase in positive cases among DDS residents from figures reported just one day before; and a nearly 70% increase in infections among employees.

The WGBH story noted that COFAR has called for the closure of any group homes in which infections are detected and for the placement of individuals in safe alternative facilities. DDS, however, has not identified any such facilities.

COFAR maintains that the Baker administration needs to consider re-purposing available DDS facilities, including vacant space in the two remaining DDS developmental centers, as hospital settings for group home residents who test positive for the virus.

In its statement to WGBH News, DDS said no group homes have been closed due to coronavirus infections, and that testing “is being administered to those who meet the current CDC and DPH testing criteria.” DDS said those criteria include symptoms of infection, “so those not meeting that criteria have not been tested.”

COFAR, however, maintains that new research shows the coronavirus is largely transmitted by asymptomatic people, so all group home residents should be tested.

Last week, COFAR first raised a concern that DDS appears to lack a clear and consistent set of policies for protecting residents in its group homes and other residential facilities from COVID-19.

COFAR is further receiving reports of a loss of services among residents of group homes and a lack of protective equipment for staff in provider residences.

High executive salaries noted

COFAR President Thomas J. Frain maintained that high executive salaries for corporate provider executives show that money is available for protective equipment, better cleaning and disinfectant procedures, re-purposing vacant facilities as hospital settings, and better planning.

“There has been a lack of planning, safety and concern for residents and the working people who are laboring on through this crisis,” Frain said. “Billions of state dollars go to the providers each year and yet people are dying because of poor planning and dirty residences.”

DDS not providing information

COFAR Executive Director Colleen M. Lutkevich said COFAR recognizes that DDS is dealing with an unprecedented situation and is facing a tremendous responsibility to keep its system functioning due to the crisis. At the same time, she said, the Department needs to move faster on a comprehensive plan and needs to do better in providing clear and timely information to families.

There appears to be no information coming from the Department on such things as whether family members can accompany their loved ones to hospitals or other medical treatment facilities. Also unclear is whether DDS or providers notify families or guardians if their loved ones test positive, and whether residents are not tested unless they have symptoms.

DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder did not respond to an email request from COFAR on March 31 with questions about departmental policies and testing. COFAR had also requested data on virus-related infections among DDS clients and staff.

“Timely and accurate information is vitally important for families to have right now,” Lutkevich said. “Withholding this information from the public is not going to reassure people, and it does not provide assurance that the Department and the administration are handling this crisis adequately.”

COFAR has filed a Public Records request to DDS for the information described above.

Residents losing services

Meanwhile, COFAR is receiving reports from families and others that many residents in the DDS system are losing services altogether as caregivers are being ordered by providers in some cases not to enter residential facilities or homes.

COFAR received an internal memo from an employee at one provider agency stating, “We are doing our best to keep the clients in the house safe from the virus, but in the event one of them does get sick, do we have guidelines in place on how to deal with the situation?” Among other problems cited in the memo was a lack of protective equipment for staff.

A source said the provider’s office was closed as of Saturday (April 4), and “no one is basically in charge, no DDS oversight.”

Please call the administration and your legislators

We are asking people to call or email DDS, Governor’s office, EOHHS, and their local state legislators to insist that DDS:

  • Develop a plan immediately to test, isolate, and relocate ill residents
  • Test and quarantine staff
  • Issue requirements on cleaning and disinfecting all residential facilities
  • Make sure appropriate protective equipment is provided to all direct care personnel in provider group homes and state-operated group homes and Intermediate Care Centers (ICF’s)
  • Re-purpose available facilities as hospital settings
  • Make sure services are continuing to be provided to all DDS clients
  • Provide accurate and timely information about the virus and infection rates, as well as DDS visitation and other policies to families, guardians, and the public

Here is some contact information:

Governor’s Office: Governor Charlie Baker
Email: cis@sec.state.ma.us.
Phone Number: 617-727-7030.

Department of Developmental Services: Commissioner Jane Ryder
Phone 617-727-5608
Email: Jane.F.Ryder@massmail.state.ma.us

Executive Office of Health and Human Services: Secretary Marylou Sudders
Phone: (617) 573-1600
Email: marylou.sudders@state.ma.us

You can find contact information for your legislators at: http://www.wheredoivotema.com

You can also send questions or concerns to us by emailing either Colleen Lutkevich at collen.lutkevich@cofar.org, Thomas J. Frain, Esq. at tjf@frainlaw.com, or David Kassel at davidskassel@gmail.com. We will forward your concerns to DDS and EOHHS.

  1. April 4, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Yes the time bomb waiting to go off. Doctors Nurses etc have greater resources have some greater risk but still the need to know that the way into the houses is through the door of the care workers who in some case do not even know they are infected. The thought that some will go through this illness alone is truly frighting. Maybe with time we will be able to find folks who have survived and now are willing to be with those who need support. So far I have failed to get our daughters Workshop to realize that daily calls from staff and facilitated call with clients (yes wrong word) for many till a vaccine is made available and in what order. If we do not work backward we will never be ready and always reacting and trying to get what is needed instead of providing what is needed.


  2. Maureen Shea
    April 4, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    Outrageous Dave maybe see if Jim Morelli from Fox will cover this? He covered Tommy’s Bill. I cannot wrap my head around this billion dollar corporation ( non profit) not having a plan! Maybe CEO’s do not earn their huge salaries!

    Sent from my iPhone



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