Home > Uncategorized > DDS plans to test everyone in the system for COVID-19, but timeline still unclear

DDS plans to test everyone in the system for COVID-19, but timeline still unclear

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) intends to test residents in all group homes in the state for COVID-19, DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder and other department officials told COFAR yesterday.

In a conference call, Ryder and other officials described a broad testing program that has already been completed in the state’s two developmental centers. As of this past Friday, the mobile testing program began in both state and corporate provider-operated group homes across the commonwealth.

Ryder said the group home testing program is being carried out by Fallon Ambulance Service in partnership with MassHealth. The ambulance service, which employs a team of testers, is based in Quincy, but operates across the state.

Ryder said residents and staff will be “prioritized” for testing if they exhibit flu-like symptoms. COFAR has raised questions about that policy and has called for immediate testing of all residents whether they are symptomatic or not.

Company will test in thousands of group homes in Massachusetts

There are 2,100 provider-run group homes dispersed around the state in Massachusetts, housing more than 7,800 residents, according to DDS. There are another 1,066 residents of state-operated group homes. During Tuesday’s conference call, the DDS officials did not offer a timeline for completing the tests, which are also intended to include staff in the residences.

Given that National Guard personnel are currently being used to test residents in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state, COFAR has suggested that the National Guard might also be deployed to speed up the testing process in DDS group homes.

The testing consists of the use of nasopharyngeal swabs, which are considered the most reliable type of test. Results take from 24 to 72 hours to obtain, Ryder said.

We asked how many mobile testers Fallon Ambulance currently has and how quickly the testing can actually be done. No one answered that question during Tuesday’s conference call, although Ryder told a COFAR Board member in an email on Monday that “Fallon (Ambulance Service) has the ability to perform between 500 to 1,000 test per day.”

COFAR Board President Thomas Frain said an official with Fallon told him that given that the ambulance company is facing the prospect of testing close to 9,000 residents in both the state-run and provider-run group homes as well as an undetermined number of staff in those facilities, the testing was a “long-term” project.

DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham said guardians can also arrange to have residents tested by their primary care doctors, and that the mobile testing program is seen as an addition to that.

DDS Chief of Staff Chris Thompson added that guardians and family can obtain “telemedical appointments” with MassHealth to discuss symptoms. They should go to www.buoy.com/mass

Questions about prioritizing residents for testing

COFAR has questioned the DDS policy of testing group home residents showing flu-like symptoms before testing anyone else. Frain maintained that research shows asymptomatic residents can be just as likely to transmit the virus as those exhibiting symptoms.

Frain noted an NPR report this week concerning a nursing home in King County, Washington in which a third of the 82 residents tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-March. Half of those were free of fever, malaise and coughing when they were swabbed for the virus, though most went on to develop symptoms. The coronavirus “spread rapidly through the facility just two weeks after it was introduced by a health care provider, despite the nursing home’s policy of isolating residents with signs of COVID-19.”

Information on test results

In Tuesday’s conference call, we reiterated our call on DDS to publicly report infection rates of persons in the DDS system, and asked about getting periodic reports on the results of the mobile testing. Meacham said DDS will provide COFAR with testing numbers when the Department has data “from at least a full week so that we have a sense of the progress of testing our community.”

Alternative sites for relocated residents

Ryder said that for those residents who are symptomatic and need to be relocated from their residences, DDS has identified three sites at the Wrentham and Hogan Centers and at the former Templeton Developmental Center where there are spaces that can be used to quarantine individuals. Ryder said these are not planned to be medical facilities.

New COVID-19 guidance document for providers

Thompson also outlined highlights of a “comprehensive” residential program guidance document just issued and shared with providers.  The 16-page document updates the EOHHS guidance document of March 25. There is also a one-page summary document for all group home managers and staff.

Highlights include:

  • A requirement that all staff wear face masks during shifts. Those should be surgical masks when possible or else cloth masks that comply with CDC guidelines. In emergencies, providers can ask for personal protective equipment from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
  • Staff will have their temperature taken prior to entering any residence. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will not be allowed to enter.
  • Staff who test positive but show no symptoms will be restricted from working for at least 7 days. If they do have symptoms, they must stay away from work for at 3 days after they have recovered and at least 7 days after the first symptoms appeared.
  • If a resident shows symptoms or tests positive, the decision whether to provide on-site care or move the person to another location will be made on a case-by-case basis after consulting the local board of health. The family or guardian would have to be notified of any decision to relocate someone. (See discussion above about alternative sites at Wrentham, Hogan, and Templeton.)

Meacham provided the following links to the Department’s new guidance document and to its updated COVID-19 information on its website:

Please stay tuned for further information as we get it from DDS and other sources, including the promised test results.

  1. Ed
    April 15, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you, Dave, for these updates!

    Ed Orzechowski edorz@comcast.net 20 Bridge Rd Unit 40 Florence MA 01062 413-262-5875



  2. April 15, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    You’re welcome, Ed!


  3. Maureen Shea
    April 15, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you Cofar for this very good news. U yuh our strong advocacy is very appreciated . M

    Sent from my iPhone



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