Home > Uncategorized > DDS considering mandatory group home staff testing as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

DDS considering mandatory group home staff testing as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

As the number of group homes reporting positive cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in Massachusetts, a Department of Developmental Services (DDS) official said the Department is considering making staff testing for COVID-19 mandatory.

COFAR has raised a concern that there currently is not a requirement that staff working in the group homes get tested even though DDS began an effort on April 10 to test all residents and staff in more than 2,300 residences across the state.

In addition, it is not clear that DDS has any plans to test residents and staff in its facilities more than once.

COFAR maintains that infected staff may be introducing the virus into group homes and other long-term care facilities. Unless all staff are required to be tested on a periodic basis, it appears likely that positive cases and deaths will continue to increase in those residences.

Christopher Klaskin, the DDS ombudsman, told COFAR yesterday (April 27) that “mandatory testing of all employees would impact multiple EHS (Executive Office of Health and Human Services) agencies and collective bargaining agreements, and we are exploring this option.”

Klaskin added that “very few employees have refused (to be tested), and those situations are addressed on a case-by-case basis.”

In a follow-up email to Klaskin, we said it was welcome news that DDS is exploring the option of mandatory testing, but asked why DDS hasn’t made staff testing a requirement before now.

We also asked how many staff have refused to be tested. It would take only one infected staff to infect an entire group home. We also noted that because DDS is still early in the group home testing program, it is likely that the number of staff refusing to be tested will continue to grow.

An official with one DDS provider, the New England Center for Children, told Boston.com yesterday that the first case of COVID-19 in the Center’s group homes came six weeks ago from an infected staff member who was asymptomatic. The provider’s group homes were locked down even at that time.

There is similarly no requirement that all staff in nursing homes around the state be tested. More than 56% of the total deaths in the state are in nursing homes and rest homes, the Boston Globe reported this week.

Numbers of infected DDS group homes rising rapidly

Data provided to COFAR by DDS shows that over a four-day period ending Sunday (April 26), the number of DDS-funded group homes reporting positive cases of COVID-19 rose from 560 to 720, out of a total of 2,353 corporate provider-operated and state-operated residences. That is an increase from 24% to 31% in the proportion of homes reporting infected residents.

As of April 26, a total of 1,886 staff and residents in the group homes and two remaining DDS developmental centers had tested positive. That is up 252 persons from just four days earlier. There have been 30 deaths in the DDS system from COVID-19.

Repeat testing needed

Earlier this month, DDS announced that the state was contracting with Fallon Ambulance Service to begin testing staff and residents throughout the system.  DDS apparently does not have a timeline for Fallon to complete its testing of what we are estimating to be 22,000 or more residents and staff in the DDS group home system.

It is also unclear whether DDS plans to have Fallon or any other entity periodically retest those individuals and staff who did test negative the first time.

COFAR President Thomas Frain termed a negative test result “a transitory label.” He added that, “Representing to the public that you are at war with the virus but aren’t retesting is akin to chasing Bin Laden across Afghanistan but allowing him free access to the Pakistan border.”

Referring to the need for repeat testing in nursing homes, Simon Johnson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a cofounder of the COVID-19 Policy Alliance, told the Boston Globe that  a single round of testing is a “recipe for disaster.”

Johnson said the state needs to move “as quickly as possible to help implement a regular comprehensive surveillance testing program for all residents and staff, so we know who is infected and who is not.” Not only do some people carry the virus without displaying symptoms, some may test negative even though they have already been infected, Johnson told the newspaper.

State may be in violation of Medicaid waiver requirements

In an email to Klaskin and DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham on Saturday, COFAR asked whether the lack of mandatory staff testing so far is a potential violation of client safety “assurances” under the federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver.

The Waiver, which authorizes Medicaid funding for group homes and other community-based programs, states that states must provide assurances that “necessary safeguards have been taken to protect the health and welfare of the beneficiaries of the services.”

Klaskin responded that DDS and all EHS agencies follow testing protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “so they meet all federal safety regulations.” He added that DDS “must adhere to (the testing protocols) to meet our waiver requirements and safeguards.”

Klaskin added that “pop-up” testing locations are being set up across the state, “giving state and provider staff across multiple shifts another option for testing.”

We are continuing to monitor the testing of group homes across the commonwealth, and are hopeful DDS will make the right changes, particularly making the testing mandatory and repetitive. If that happens, we think and hope the numbers testing positive will peak sooner than they otherwise would, and will start to diminish.

  1. Kathleen MacKechnie
    April 28, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    and so just an FYI– Wrentham Developmental Center ha s DAILY temp checks on employees/all wear masks and gloves! Tell me again how group homes are better?!!!


    • Eleanor
      April 29, 2020 at 12:06 am

      DDS should know that Staff & Admin in each Home along with Residences should be tested daily, residences maybe once a week.
      Some Staff members have more than one job and wear the same clothes and masks from one to another with the same clothes on.
      So they could be the carrier from one home to the next. It did happen..


  2. April 28, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Yes the virus knows NO boundaries. The things people do to be better. Still trying to get some logic on our side. ie 4 RIGHTS Right to work for a special minimum wage. Only disabled individuals can do that. The Right to WORK itself The Right of association The Right to a Person Centered Service Plan We do not use the POWER of this to our benefit. THEY have ignored this in large part because the THEY have realized that it is powerful.


  3. Laura Bradley
    April 28, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    repeated testing a necessary step, staff goes out in the world, is exposed daily, we must keep up the mandatory testing so our loved ones will be safe


  4. Laura Bradley
    April 28, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    mandatory and repeated testing is necessary to keep our loved ones safe. Staff go out in the world, and face repeated exposure. Covid positive people may have NO symptoms. Testing is the only way to keep people safe


  5. Celia Demers
    April 28, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    My cousin, at Wrentham, was tested, along with all residents. All staff have now been tested. One nurse that works with my cousin’s unit tested positive, so all residents she had contact with were re-tested. That’s what we want. But this should be across the board policy and action for all DDS residents.
    Celia Demers, Worcester


  6. Ellen O'Keefe
    April 29, 2020 at 9:37 am

    This needs to happen! My sister tested positive along with all other clients. The staff brought it in. They need to be tested consistantly!


  7. Celia Demers
    April 29, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    Should NOT be voluntary for staff. Walmart in Worcester just got a Cease & Desist order for 21 employees testing positive but not wearing masks or gloves, along with many patrons.
    If it’s illegal for Walmart it should be illegal for our facilities where our loved ones live.


  8. Celia Demers
    April 30, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    I agree. I think the experience and science show that testing is crucial because people can have it with zero symptoms and be carriers. I am going on Mass.gov today to find out who my state representatives and senators are and will email my concerns directly to them, along with the dept heads for DDS and MA. Public Health.


  9. Kathleen MacKechnie
    May 2, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Celia, go straight to Jane Ryder s office and cc to the Governor


    • Celia Demers
      May 4, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      Done. Thank you.


  10. Cindy Barich
    May 4, 2020 at 3:02 am

    My brother who is in a group home, has just tested positive as well as his roommates. His house has been in lockdown since March 24..the only way he could have gotten it is from staff..even though staff were checked daily at the beginning of each shift (as I was told but who knows?) To further complicate matters, his residence is near the RI border so majority of staff live in RI… a different state with different public health response.

    Group home response is to restrict everyone to their bedrooms, behind closed doors…my non verbal, wheelchair bound brother with a seizure disorder needs cant be met if staff cant see him. Group home says it’s a privacy issue. Cant I, as his guardian, ask to waive his privacy rights until he recovers? Either by having a video monitor or swapping out the wood door for a see thru door?


    • Celia Demers
      May 4, 2020 at 3:27 pm

      Hi Cindy, I am so sorry to hear about your brother’s situation. My cousin is in Wrentham DC and their policy is to have residents testing positive for Co-Vid 19 be kept in their bedrooms as well. However, at Wrentham, they say they will provide 24-hour one-to-one staffing with each resident who is ill. This is a risk to the carer, I would think unless they provide full PPE. Like your brother, my cousin is non-verbal and has a seizure disorder. I am his legal co-guardian (with his father). Are you your brother’s legal guardian? I don’t know what agency runs your brother’s group home, but ultimately the privacy issue must be moot if the resident is non-verbal. However, not being a lawyer I can’t advise. I know I’ve been told that my adult children must have their parents as one of their Health Care Proxy’s if (God forbid) they became unable to speak on their own behalf in the case of illness or accident. I hope and pray that your brother recovers soon.
      Sincerely, Celia Demers (celiademers@gmail.com)


      • Cindy Barich
        May 4, 2020 at 6:21 pm

        Hi Celia..thank you for your reply. It helps tremendously to know that I am not alone. I was venting quite a bit yesterday. I am his legal guardian. I contacted the group home again today and it may come to fruition to have a video.monitor in his room. Saying prayers! I will be sending letters to the govenor and state reps/senators because our disabled relatives are not being given the priority that they need and deserve. Thank you again for the support!


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