Home > Uncategorized > COVID-19 testing program finally starting in DDS residential system, but scope is unclear

COVID-19 testing program finally starting in DDS residential system, but scope is unclear

We have been calling for COVID-19 testing of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers in Massachusetts, and it appears the Baker administration has finally begun doing so.

In an email Saturday (April 11) to COFAR Executive Director Colleen M. Lutkevich, Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services, said the administration “has started mobile testing for individuals in DDS (Department of Developmental Services) group homes.”

Also on Sunday, Lutkevich said she was informed that testing of residents and staff had begun at the Wrentham Developmental Center and the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers, the state’s two remaining Intermediate Care Facilities for the developmentally disabled (ICFs).

COFAR maintains that such testing is essential because group homes are potential targets for the rapid spread of the virus. The lack of testing of residents and staff in DDS residential facilities has contributed to a lack of resources for protection and care of both staff and residents.

While the testing is a welcome and necessary development, it remains unclear whether the administration’s plans call for testing of all residents in corporate provider-run residences funded by DDS, and what that testing timeline would be. There are 2,100 provider-run group homes dispersed around the state, housing more than 7,800 residents, according to DDS.

In an email sent Sunday to Sudders and DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder, Lutkevich and COFAR Board President Thomas J. Frain asked for clarification of the scope of the overall testing program and whether there are plans to deploy National Guard personnel to carry out the testing throughout the provider group home system.  The National Guard is currently being used to test residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state.

Staff at the Wrentham Center were given the option Sunday of getting tested at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, but most were opting to be tested at the Wrentham ICF. The Wrentham Center was using teams to go into each residence on the campus and was doing staff testing in tents.

There were 235 residents at the Wrentham Center and 117 residents at the Hogan Center as of the start of the current fiscal year. COFAR was informed that all Hogan and Wrentham Center residents and most of the staff had been tested as of Sunday.

At least one parent of a resident at a state-operated group home in the northeast region of the state reported on Sunday that testing was about to begin of residents there. There are currently 1,066 residents of state-operated group homes throughout the state, according to DDS.

COFAR has continued to call on Sudders to publicly report the results of any and all testing done of individuals in the DDS system.  Sudders last week denied COFAR’s request that the Department of Public Health (DPH) provide public updates on confirmed cases of infections and deaths in DDS-funded residential facilities.

On April 10, COFAR sent an email to Sudders asking for the basis and reasoning for her denial. DPH currently publishes daily updates on its website of the numbers of persons in the state who have died and who have tested positive from COVID-19. In addition, those daily updates list numbers of infected persons and deaths in “long-term care facilities.”

However, no information is reported in the DPH updates specifically on numbers of residents or staff of DDS-funded group homes or ICFs who have died or become infected even though those facilities also provide long-term residential care.

According to the published DPH data, approximately 50% of the COVID-19 deaths in the state are among residents of long-term care facilities. Frain maintained that care for those long-term care facility residents identified by the DPH “is funded similarly to care for the residential DDS population, and all of those individuals are very vulnerable and rich targets for COVID-19.”

In an email to Sudders on Saturday, Frain maintained that “in Massachusetts, many of the group homes are essentially petri dishes for the spread of the virus.”

According to media reports on April 9, 122 residents and 150 staff had tested positive for COVID-19 in DDS facilities. There had been 3 deaths reported. That is the latest information COFAR has been able to obtain on deaths and infection rates in DDS facilities because of the lack of public information from the administration.

COFAR and its affiliate, the Wrentham Family Association, have also called for distributions of personal protective equipment in the developmental centers and group homes, and asked that “appropriate precautions then be made for all who test positive (isolation, quarantine).”

A thanks to the media from Colleen

Thank you to everyone who helped with this effort to advocate for DDS clients and their families, especially our most reliable media friends at Channel 5 Boston, (Kevin Rothstein and Mike Beaudet), WGBH radio, (Isaiah Thompson and Mark Herz), the Salem News (Julie Manganis) and the Worcester Telegram (Elaine Thompson).  Their willingness to report on this story made all the difference.  Wishing everyone health and safety.

  1. Ed
    April 13, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Progress. Let’s hope the testing in both state and privately contracted homes occurs without further delay.


  2. gael79
    April 13, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Sometimes you read something and it makes you smile
    Thank you COFAR


  3. April 13, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Thank You Dave, Tom, and Colleen for this update on all of the work you have all done for persons with disabilities. So important and I know the families appreciate it . Without your persistence it may not have happened . Why it takes so long to get people to listen is a shame. I also thank Channel 5 for caring enough for our most vulnerable to report on this.


  4. Anonymous
    April 18, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Yes definetly thank you to those friends for their dedication to the vulnerable people with this news reporting. Hardly mainstream news.
    Clare Stone WBUR WGBH WCVB Thank You


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