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DDS group home providers have different options for providing COVID vaccinations

January 19, 2021 1 comment

Group homes and developmental centers in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system have a number of options for obtaining COVID-19 vaccines and administering them to their residents and staff, as part of a major vaccination effort that officially begins this week.

In a letter to families that she issued last week, DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder termed the DDS vaccination program “complex,” and said the timing will vary by provider.

Ryder said that vaccinations of both residents and staff of DDS residential congregate care programs would officially begin this week, and that vaccinations of “home-based healthcare workers” would begin in early February.

Ryder said that latter category of staff slated for vaccinations in early February includes shared living providers, home-based respite, individual/family support staff who provide in-home services, and “participants who self-direct their services.”

Provider options for vaccinations

In guidance issued last week, the Department of Public Health (DPH) outlined three options available to group home and other congregate care providers for obtaining and administering the vaccines. Those options are “self-administration,” which involves receiving the vaccines directly from DPH; existing partnerships with pharmacies and other healthcare providers; and scheduling vaccinations at mass-vaccination sites.

In her letter, Ryder discussed the latter two methods, but didn’t mention the self-administration option. She said the partnerships apply to providers that have relationships with either CVS or Walgreens to provide and administer the vaccinations.

In some of those cases, vaccinations have already begun, Ryder said. That appears to explain an apparent discrepancy between the reports we received about some vaccinations having started prior to this week, and the official announcement that vaccinations in DDS group homes would start this week.

As part of that partnership option, Ryder said, some providers are arranging with local pharmacies or healthcare providers such as a local hospital or community health center to have vaccinations delivered and administered to residents and staff.

Self-Administration Option

The DPH guidance lists a primary option for congregate care facilities of directly receiving and administering vaccines from DPH (“self-administration”).  The guidance states that this option “is likely to be the most convenient for staff and residents and the quickest method for them to obtain the vaccine.”

However, as noted, Commissioner Ryder didn’t mention this option in her letter. In an email query to Ryder last week, I asked if that meant that none of the DDS group home providers meet the qualifications for the self-administration option, which include having the capacity to vaccinate 200 persons and having refrigeration storage capacity for the vaccines. To date, I haven’t received a reply.

Ryder’s additional points

In her letter, Ryder listed additional points about the vaccines in the DDS system:

  • Vaccination is voluntary for staff and residents.
  • DDS is seeking consent from legal guardians prior to residents receiving the vaccine.
  • Surveillance testing and infection control measures, including the use of face masks and PPE, hand hygiene, and social distancing, will remain in place until further notice.

More information on getting vaccinated in congregate care settings is available here.

Latest COVID test results:

Meanwhile, the administration’s latest online COVID test data for congregate and long-term care facilities shows some mixed results for COVID in the DDS system. The COVID situation had looked last week as though it was improving in the system, but this past week’s report showed the infection numbers headed back up for provider group home residents and staff, and for Wrentham Developmental Center residents and staff.

Provider group home residents testing positive jumped from 236 to 280 in the week ending Tuesday, January 12. New results will be posted online tomorrow (January 20).

The latest report shows the Hogan Regional Center holding steady on the number of residents testing positive. There was even a drop in the number of staff infected, from 14 to 9 at Hogan this past week. But Wrentham saw a sharp increase in staff testing positive — from 14 to 32, while residents testing positive went from 3 to 11.

Please let us know what your experience has been with the vaccination program in the DDS system.

COVID vaccination new update: Program starting next week in DDS group homes

January 13, 2021 1 comment

UPDATE to our previous Update:

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Commissioner Jane Ryder issued a letter to families and providers this afternoon (January 13), stating that vaccinations of both residents and staff in DDS state-run and provider-run group homes will begin next week, the week of January 18.

This is in line with what Governor Baker announced today (see below), but seems to contradict information earlier this week from DDS that the vaccinations were starting this week.

We have also heard from some families of group home residents who were informed that vaccinations were starting this week.

Ryder also stated in her letter that vaccinations of home-based healthcare workers will begin in early February. For DDS, that includes shared living providers, home-based respite, individual/family
support staff who provide in-home services, and participants who self-direct their services.

Ryder also forwarded guidance from the Department of Public Health on vaccine distribution in congregate care facilities.

Elizabeth Morse, DDS deputy commissioner for operations, had stated in an email on Monday that the vaccination program was starting in DDS congregate programs this week.

Morse said a “small amount of vaccines” were previously distributed to the Hogan Regional Center and Wrentham Developmental Center “to help get the vaccine clinics set up.”

Governor provides some details

In a news briefing today, Governor Charlie Baker said the vaccines would be administered in congregate care settings starting on Monday, the 18th. However, as noted, Morse said the vaccination program was starting in the DDS settings this week.

According to The Boston Globe, the governor said congregate care facilities “can administer the vaccine in multiple ways.” Those facilities can self-administer the vaccine on site if they meet certain criteria, work with an existing pharmacy or provider to provide the vaccinations, or use mass vaccination sites such as one opening Monday for first responders at Gillette Stadium.

Earlier this week, we heard from a number of family members of DDS group home residents that the vaccinations were scheduled to start this week or next week for both residents and staff.

The providers were still waiting earlier this week for guidance from DDS on the vaccines. One family forwarded an email from their provider, dated Monday, informing them that, “Once we have a definite plan for vaccination, we will be reaching out to all families and guardians to let them know.”

A COFAR member received word last week from a medical staff person at the Wrentham Center that staff at the center were first in line for vaccinations, and were starting that day (January 5). However, the COFAR member was also told the center received less than half the necessary doses of the vaccine needed for the staff, which is listed at 850 persons.

DDS developmental centers and group homes fall under Phase 1 of the state’s vaccination plan, but have not been at the top of the Phase 1 order.

The Phase 1 order, which began in December and is scheduled to run through February, is:

1. Clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing “direct and COVID-facing care”
2. Long-term care facilities (which apparently include the Wrentham and Hogan Centers and nursing homes)
3. Police, fire, and emergency medical services
4. Congregate care settings (which apparently include DDS group homes, shelters, and prisons)
5. Home-based healthcare workers
6. Healthcare workers “doing non-COVID-facing care.”

Phase 2 of the distribution plan, which is scheduled to run from February through April, includes members of the general population with two or more medical comorbidities, residents over age 75, teachers, grocery workers, sanitation and public health workers; residents over 65, and individuals with one comorbidity.

The vaccines are projected to be available to members of the general public in Phase 3, which runs from April through June.

We will report to you on the promised additional details about vaccine distribution in the DDS system as soon as we hear about them.

Confusion persists as administration remains mum on COVID vaccinations in the DDS system

January 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Information continues to be sparse and confusing over COVID-19 vaccinations and testing of residents and staff in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system.

All of the information we have gotten so far regarding vaccine distribution in the system has been in the form of unofficial reports to COFAR members from facility staff. We heard unofficially, for instance, that staff at the Wrentham Developmental Center began receiving vaccinations last week, but that less than half the necessary doses were available for the center’s 850 staff.

At the same time, we were told late last week that an initial unofficial report that residents and staff at the Hogan Regional Center had gotten vaccinated in late December was false, and that no one at Hogan had yet gotten the vaccine. As a result, we have corrected our January newsletter, which had initially reported the incorrect information.

Unfortunately, our repeated attempts to get official information about the vaccine distribution in the DDS system either from Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders or from DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder have been rebuffed.

Infection rate may be leveling off

Amid all the confusion and uncertainty, there appears to be some potentially good news that the number of residents testing positive in the DDS system may be leveling off after a second COVID surge that began in October.

Our chart below is based on the administration’s latest official weekly state facilities report, and shows the results of COVID testing of residents in provider-operated group homes.

Administration officials not responding to emails

So far, however, we haven’t gotten a clear picture of the vaccine distribution situation.

On December 2, I emailed both DDS Commissioner Ryder and HHS Secretary Sudders to ask whether the Baker administration would include DDS residents and staff in its plans for distribution of the first doses of the vaccine that Massachusetts received. I never received a response to that query.

While the administration did issue a general vaccine distribution plan in early December, the plan doesn’t mention or make clear how DDS clients and staff fit into the overall picture.

When we heard that the unofficial report was false that vaccinations had been given at the Hogan Center, I sent a second email last week (January 7) to Sudders, Ryder, and DDS’s ombudsman asking for any information they could provide about the vaccination schedule in the DDS developmental centers and group homes. Again, no answer.

On Saturday (January 9), I emailed Marylouise Gamache, EOHHS ombudsman, with the same question. No answer so far.

In addition to the confusion over the developmental centers, it remains unclear when DDS group home residents will get the vaccine, and where those residents fall within Phase 1 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. It appears all residents of DDS group homes and developmental centers are included in Phase 1 of the plan, which stretches through February. But it is unclear as to whether group home clients, in particular, are closer to the top or the bottom of the Phase 1 priority order.

As one COFAR member put it, it doesn’t seem as though it should be difficult for the administration to provide information for DDS families and guardians about the vaccination schedule and dosages delivered and administered. We think that data could easily be added to the online weekly state facility reports.

COVID testing in DDS system indicates some leveling off of the rate of infection

As noted, the picture may be improving regarding COVID testing in the DDS system. The infection numbers in the administration’s latest weekly report are still relatively high, but the peak may have occurred as of the Dec. 22 reporting date when 248 residents were listed as COVID positive. That number of positive residents was down to 236 as of last week’s reporting date on Wednesday. (See chart above.)

The numbers in those weekly reports for infected staff in provider residences are actually two weeks behind. Even so, that positive test rate may have also leveled off. The latest weekly report shows the positive test rate for provider staff in all EOHHS group homes was 3.12% as of the latest reporting date of Dec. 23, down from 3.16% as of Dec. 9.

Hopefully those downward numbers will continue, but it may be too early to say this is a downward trend.

Reporting of testing results should include tracking of “long-haul” effects

We have previously reported that the administration’s public reporting of testing results of both residents and staff in the DDS system has been spotty. For instance, while the weekly facility reports finally began to include information about provider staff testing positive, the numbers are for all human service provider agencies, not just DDS.

We would also like to see tracking of “long-haul” effects on residents and staff in the DDS system. Long-haul effects are lingering complications from the virus that can be debilitating even if individuals have recovered from the immediate effects of the infection.

The weekly reports do track what is termed “current clients recovered.” The reports define clients recovered as those who have tested negative or have met symptom and time-based recovery guidelines. Our guess is someone could meet those guidelines and still have long-haul effects of the virus.

Also, the numbers in the reports are apparently not cumulative because the reports state that those numbers don’t include “all recoveries over time.”  They are listed as  “current clients recovered” each week.

For months, we have been saying that we need more and better information from the administration about its response to the virus. While the administration has made some strides in this area, the continuing lack of communication about vaccine distribution, in particular, is frustrating and disturbing.

DDS residents are likely to get vaccinated in January, but questions remain about vaccine priority list

December 16, 2020 5 comments

Residents of Department of Developmental Services facilities will get vaccinated in January, according to an email this week from DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder to a COFAR member.

Ryder’s message still seems ambiguous, however, as to exactly where DDS residents fall within Phase 1 of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine distribution plan.

It appears residents of DDS group homes and developmental centers are included in Phase 1 of the plan, which stretches from this month through February. But DDS facilities are not specifically mentioned in the plan, and Ryder’s statement appears unclear as to whether DDS clients are closer to the top or the bottom of the Phase 1 priority order.

On December 2, I emailed both Ryder and state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to ask whether the Baker administration will include DDS residents and staff in its plans for distribution of the first doses of the vaccine that Massachusetts gets.

To date — two weeks later — there has been no response from either Ryder or Sudders to my query.

However, in a Monday email to a COFAR member, who had asked the same question, Ryder wrote the following:

We are all so optimistic now that the vaccines have begun to arrive in Massachusetts. The vaccinations of our group homes are in Phase 1 of the Governor’s distribution plan. Hospital and Long Term Care facilities will be first.  We expect that group homes will come on line in January. (my emphasis)

We are currently working with the Department of Public Health and the Command Center in the logistics.  We will be keeping all families informed as we finalize the plan. The most important thing we are stressing is the importance of continued vigilance including mask wearing, good hygiene and social distancing.

First, we are not exactly sure what Ryder means in saying group homes will “come on line.” But we think she means everyone in the group home system will get vaccinated in January. If so, that would seem to be good news because Phase 1 is supposed to stretch from December through February.

However, what is ambiguous and possibly misleading in Ryder’s message is that it appears — if you don’t read it carefully — to include group homes in the category of long-term care facilities. Moreover, Ryder says those facilities “will be first.”

In fact, long-term care facilities aren’t first on the priority list under Phase 1, and it doesn’t appear that group homes are even considered long-term care facilities on that list.

The Phase 1 order (see below) lists long-term care facilities as second on the vaccine priority order, behind healthcare workers. Secondly, we think the group homes category actually falls under congregate-care settings, which is fourth on the list.

As noted, the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Plan doesn’t actually mention DDS group homes. The Phase 1 order is:

1. Clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing “direct and COVID-facing care”
2. Long-term care facilities, rest homes, and assisted living facilities
3. Police, fire, and emergency medical services
4. Congregate care settings (including corrections and shelters)
5. Home-based healthcare workers
6. Healthcare workers “doing non-COVID-facing care.”

If you read Ryder’s statement carefully, she does not actually say group homes fall under long-term care facilities. Her statement seems carefully worded. As we mentioned, Ryder’s statement makes it sound as though group homes are first on the list. But we don’t think they are.

While we are sure that most DDS families and guardians would not second guess the Phase 1 priority list, we think those families have a right to clear and accurate information about where their loved ones fall on that list. We hope either Commissioner Ryder or Secretary Sudders are willing, as Ryder says they are, to provide that clear information.

Additional information about the state’s vaccine distribution efforts can be found here.

COFAR asking Baker administration whether DDS residents and staff will be among first to get COVID vaccine

December 4, 2020 7 comments

In the wake of a recommendation earlier this week from a federal advisory panel that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, COFAR has asked the Baker administration whether that would include residents and staff in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system.

So far, we haven’t gotten an answer.

According to a Politico article, the recommendation on Tuesday of the advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) isn’t binding. But the article stated that many states that are putting together vaccination plans are looking to the CDC as a guide.

In an email on Wednesday morning to state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder, I asked whether the Baker administration will include DDS residents and staff in its plans for distribution of the first doses of the vaccine that Massachusetts gets.

It appears the primary thrust of the recommendation on Tuesday of the CDC panel is to ensure the early vaccination of residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for the elderly.

Protecting residents of nursing homes from COVID-19 has been a priority of the Baker administration as well, given the large number of those residents that have died from the virus.

In my email to Sudders and Ryder, I noted that we support the early distribution of the vaccine in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and correctional centers. But we want to make sure the DDS system is included in those distribution plans, and that it is clear that both group homes and developmental centers in the DDS system fall into the category of long-term care facilities, in the view of the administration.

We have long been concerned that the administration has overlooked the DDS system in its efforts to protect the state in general from the impact of the COVID pandemic.

The Politico article stated that Trump administration officials say that up to 40 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will be available by the end of 2020. That is enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Between 5 and 10 million additional doses are anticipated to be available per week in early 2021.

Pfizer and Moderna are both seeking FDA authorization for their vaccines.

End to lockdown

The vaccinations will obviously bring an end to the ongoing isolation of DDS clients in group homes and developmental centers. Those residents have been subjected to increasingly strict and often inconsistent lockdown measures during the current surge of the virus.

Most of the increased COVID cases in the DDS system have been among staff, but the burden of the lockdown has fallen most heavily on the residents themselves.

Deaths among DDS residents do not currently appear to be rising; but, as of the latest two-week surveillance testing period ending November 25, the number of staff testing positive for the virus in DDS provider-run group homes had risen from 504 to 526.

As of December 1, the number of residents testing positive in provider-run group homes actually appeared to be leveling off from the week before, at 175.

We’re sure that all of the residents in the DDS system and their families would like to know how the Baker administration is interpreting the CDC’s definition of long-term care facilities with regard to distribution of the vaccines. We hope we get an answer from the administration soon.

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