Home > Uncategorized > As COVID rates drop, DDS finally lifts restrictions on visiting group homes

As COVID rates drop, DDS finally lifts restrictions on visiting group homes

With numbers continuing to drop of residents testing positive for COVID-19 in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system, DDS has finally lifted restrictions on visitation, according to an announcement on the Department’s website.

In the announcement, dated June 14, DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder stated that DDS had “asked our residential settings to return to their pre-pandemic visitation policies and practices” with the following exceptions:

  • Continued screening of all visitors for symptoms of illness and COVID-19 infection.
  • Suspended visitation when a resident is isolating due to COVID infection or there is a COVID-19 outbreak at the program.
  • Visitors must wear masks indoors at the home except if fully vaccinated and visiting a fully vaccinated resident in their room. Staff are still required to wear masks in group homes, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Residents who are fully vaccinated may visit with loved ones who are fully vaccinated without maintaining social distancing or wearing masks, if they choose.

The relaxed visitation guidelines hopefully mean the end of the imposition of contradictory and seemingly arbitrary restrictions, in some cases, on visitation by families of loved ones in the DDS system.

Ryder’s statement came just as the most recent COVID testing data published online, on June 15, showed that positive cases have reached new lows in the DDS system.

For the first time since COVID testing data has been kept, there were zero positive cases among residents in provider-run DDS group homes, and less than 5 residents testing positive in state-run group homes. (See graph below for the testing trend for provider-run residents since June 2020.)

Source: EOHHS online data

In the weeks prior to June 15, the number of residents testing positive in the provider-run homes had held steady at close to 30, while the number testing positive in the state-run group homes had held steady at about 10.

It remains to be seen whether the lower positive rates as of June 15 will continue.  The answer to that question will apparently not be known publicly until July 13, when the next results will be published.

As of June 16, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) indicated on its COVID reporting site that DDS testing data will be published only every four weeks instead of weekly, as had previously been the case during the COVID crisis.

It is still unclear how many staff in provider-run group homes in the DDS system are continuing to test positive for COVID. That information has never been included in the DDS facilities reports.

The latest report as of June 15 shows less than 5 COVID-positive staff in the state-operated group homes, and zero positive staff and zero positive residents in the Wrentham and Hogan developmental centers.

Staff vaccination rates still unclear

COVID vaccination rates among staff and residents in the DDS system are also not published online.

Based on information provided by EOHHS in response to Public Records Requests from COFAR, we last reported that as of April 9, less than 50% of staff in state-operated group homes were fully vaccinated.  In provider-run group homes, only 51% of staff were fully vaccinated as of April 12.

Some 75% and 90% of residents in provider-run and state-run group homes respectively had been vaccinated as of April 12.

We filed a renewed Public Records request on Monday (June 28) with EOHHS for the latest staff and resident vaccination rates. EOHHS stated that a response will be provided by July 13.

As we have previously noted, the relatively low staff vaccination rates as of April may have been keeping COVID present in the DDS system. However, if COVID rates among residents do remain at zero or close to it in the weeks following June 15, it would almost certainly be due to a high vaccination rate among those residents.

Ryder continuing to push vaccinations for residents

In her June 14 message, however, Commissioner Ryder implied that not all DDS clients have been vaccinated. She noted that a “Homebound Vaccination Program” was available across the state to anyone with trouble getting to a vaccination site.  The number is 1-833-983-0485 to schedule an in-home vaccination.

Restarting day programs

Ryder also said DDS was working with providers to return clients to in-person day and employment programs. She said, however, that those programs are currently “struggling” with staff shortages.

We have reported that day programs were also targeted for major cuts in the governor’s Fiscal Year 2022 state budget. The fiscal year began Thursday (July 1), but the budget has not yet been approved by the Legislature.

Ryder did not mention in her message that in January, Governor Baker specified a $25 million, or 11%, cut in the DDS Community Based Day and Work (CBDW) line item. A major cut in the line item could also make it difficult to return clients to in-person day programs.

The House and Senate subsequently added $15 million back to the CBDW line item, noting that the add-back would primarily be for the development of services in response to the COVID pandemic. But even the House and Senate versions would cut the line item by $10 million, or 4.2%, from the previous fiscal year.

We have previously reported that the COVID crisis resulted in a major shift to remote attendance in the CBDW programs via platforms such as Zoom. As of November 2020, 36% of day program clients were attending remotely only, according to DDS data.

As usual, it would be helpful to have more timely information from the administration about the state of the DDS system, particularly regarding COVID vaccination and testing rates for provider staff. The outlook for DDS day programs also remains cloudy as we emerge from the pandemic.

At the same time, the dropping positive COVID rates among DDS group home and facility residents, and the promised return to pre-pandemic visitation policies are very hopeful developments.

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