Amy Lamontagne is the executive director of Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley. Prior to March 28, 2020, her only concern was managing a well-respected skilled nursing home, her first assignment as an ED. At the 15 Life Care facilities in Massachusetts, high levels of service were being delivered on a daily basis for residents and patients.
Then, on March 28, COVID-19 came to Nashoba Valley. It was not the first facility in Massachusetts to have a resident test positive for the lethal virus, but, over the next two months, it would be the focal point for the local and national media as COVID-19 raged through the state and all of the Northeast.
Nashoba Valley and other Life Care facilities were as prepared as facilities could be for the arrival of COVID-19. Zo Long, Life Care's Northeast Division vice president, an area that includes Massachusetts, was on the phone with Life Care's corporate clinical leadership on March 1, two days after the first positive test at a Life Care facility in Kirkland, Washington. Along with other Life Care leaders, Long and her leadership team learned much from Kirkland's experience, including the need for continual surveillance and monitoring, the urgency of ordering PPE and N95 masks and the importance of scrutinizing and following daily guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the day of the first positive test at Nashoba Valley, Long, Life Care's regional vice president Kate O'Connor, Lamontagne and the facility's medical director proactively held a call with the Massachusetts state surveyor, the local Board of Health, the state Department of Public Health and the state epidemiologist.
Two days later, on March 30, the Life Care team got on a phone call with the local hospital and local officials to discuss the facility's readiness. They explained that the Nashoba Valley had adequate PPE and staffing but not the necessary testing. They told local officials that Life Care was prepared with multiple levels of support for Nashoba Valley, a fact reinforced with the knowledge that Life Care had three licensed administrators on-site inside the building. They informed local leaders that despite the level of preparation, there was no treatment for COVID-19.
The call did not have the intended effect. Instead of reassuring the local community, the call led to a press conference, and a media storm ensued at Nashoba Valley.
Over the next 60 days, Lamontagne and her team came face-to-face with the deadly virus - but they triumphantly came out on the other side and stabilized their building - losing an associate in the process. As the virus swept through New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Lamontagne endured what seemed to be an endless stream of recriminations from local officials and politicians.
The battle against the virus was familiar in its lightning quick pattern of attacking residents. "I was assisting a stable resident with her lunch, and two hours later she was headed to the hospital with respiratory distress."
Kate O'Connor, Regional Vice President
As Life Care of Nashoba Valley became COVID-free at the end of May, Lamontagne penned her thoughts in an op-ed. She wrote:
"What I didn't expect was that at the same time I was fighting to keep my residents and my staff safe, I also had to fight a battle with some local officials, the media and politicians. While many were in the comfort of their offices and homes, my staff and I have been risking our lives on the front lines of this fight.
Shame on them. Their game of blame and shame has demoralized staff and placed residents at even greater risk. They have perpetuated misinformation that has been repeated both in local and national news stories and has been used as a political platform. My staff, residents and their families watch the news. The false and misleading stories have complicated our lives tremendously."
Amy Lamontagne, Executive Director
But Champions rise, which is what Lamontagne and her team at Nashoba Valley have done. It's what the leadership and staff at all 15 Life Care facilities in Massachusetts have done. Today, all 15 Life Care facilities in Massachusetts are COVID-free, a fact that we all know can change at any time.
Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley's journey since March 28 has been filled with tragedy, sorrow, heroism and community support. A memorial tree and plaque mark the 25 residents and one associate who lost their lives to COVID-19. The ceremony is something that will be repeated at the 13 other Life Care facilities where residents or associates died. A memorial plaque was also dedicated at Life Care Centers of America’s corporate headquarters on Aug. 28, remembering the 13 Life Care associates from across the country who died putting residents first and doing their jobs, including six in Massachusetts.
"The passage of time brings context and clarity of facts to what happened at Nashoba Valley," said Long. "What is clear is that the virus ravaged the entire state, not just the skilled nursing home industry. What is also clear is that the work done by associates at Nashoba Valley and at all of our Massachusetts facilities deserves high praise, not criticism."
Zo Long, Division Vice President
Because the safety and peace of mind of residents and their family members is the highest priority. Life Care facilities in Massachusetts are installing three new technologies to enhance infection control and safety. Two utilize ultraviolent light to kill viruses, and the other allows the facilities to rapidly process COVID-19 tests. They are working daily to help keep residents and associates safe. It's a commitment embraced by Life Care and its associates and one they are working to fulfill each day.
That vigilance includes:
- Every patient will receive a respiratory assessment every day.
- "Point of Care" testing equipment from the federal government will process 20 tests an hour.
- Installation of SafeZone air-filtration system will improve air flow and kills the virus with UV light. The machine is mobile and can clean a room in less than 20 minutes.
- Installation of "Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization" will be placed inside facility HVAC systems. The technology adds ions to the airstream, which kills a virus. It also traps particles in a filter and uses UV technology to kill a virus.
- Ongoing surveillance testing program will continue for staff, per state requirement.
- All new admissions will have private rooms for at least 14 days, allowing for observation to prevent any new introduction of the virus into the facility.
- Ongoing communication with family members will include monitored outdoor visits, window visits, texts, phone calls, FaceTime calls and "drive-by" parades to keep families connected to their loved ones.
- Strict adherence to CDC and state health department infection control protocols will be maintained, including wearing goggles or face shields.
- Training for associates will be continuously updated based on regulations and first-hand experience in controlling the virus.
The two months that COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the state of Massachusetts, including Life Care of Nashoba Valley and other Life Care centers in Massachusetts, were dark and difficult days. The recriminations of April and May in the media have passed, but investigations and a need to place blame remain. Amy Lamontagne agrees, but in in closing out her op-ed, she made it clear where that blame should be placed:
"If there is a need to blame anything or anyone during this unprecedented viral outbreak, then let's lay it squarely where it belongs: on the virus."
Amy Lamontagne, Executive Director