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Back on campus? ‘Keggers lead to coffins,’ health care executive says

  • President and CEO Brendan Williams of the NH Health Care Association with a defective mask with a poor strap for the ears at his office in Pembroke on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, stretches the thin cloth band of a surgical mask, which was received in a shipment from the federal government, outside Webster at Rye senior care center on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Rye, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 8/25/2020 4:56:44 PM

Long-term care facilities fear more cases of the coronavirus if college reopenings are not handled carefully.

Brendan Williams, the president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said nursing homes have been an afterthought in many of reopening plans, even though they bear the brunt of the state’s COVID-related deaths. Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, have comprised about 81% of the deaths in the state.

“The reality is these universities and colleges can choose to assess the risk to their own students, faculty, and staff,” he said. “We end up being collateral damage to these decisions.”

Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New England College in Henniker, and St. Anselm College in Manchester have all experienced students returning to campus and bringing COVID with them. Some schools have had difficulty getting college students to comply with social distancing guidelines leading to the risk of spreading the disease.

Last week, the Union Leaderreported on the tumultuous reopening of Saint Anselm College, which included large gatherings on campus and plans for large parties off-campus. This prompted the president of the university to send a letter to parents, urging them to talk to their children about abiding by the safety guidelines.

Nursing homes across New Hampshire have developed testing regimes, cleaning procedures, and strict visitor guidelines to quell the spread of the virus in their home.

But according to recent research, the facilities’ efforts are futile as long as there is community spread where the staff lives. In a report sent to the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, researchers found no meaningful association between the quality of the nursing home and the likelihood they would see a case of COVID-19. That is, homes that were given a “one-star” rating based on inspections, staffing, and clinical quality measures were no more likely than “five-star” homes to have a case of the virus.

Instead, researchers determined that the most important factor is where the nursing home is located. If the disease is spreading throughout a community, it doesn’t matter how airtight the safety procedures are, the virus will find its way in. This is especially true because the virus can spread asymptomatically through staff members.

That means the future of these facilities may lie in the hands of college students returning to their campuses. Williams said he is terrified about what this might mean for nursing homes in New Hampshire.

In recent weeks, almost all of the nursing homes in the state have controlled their outbreaks and have started opening their facilities back up to visitors.

“Compared to other states, we have done relatively well,” Williams said. “I worry we’re going to slip.”

If students can’t comply with the safety regulations, universities should consider moving their semesters online for the sake of the community, Williams said.

Williams said he understands that would be difficult for students – his own son is beginning his senior year of high school online. But for many of the residents in these facilities, risky decisions on campus could lead to death.

“We must be brutally honest with young people: Keggers lead to coffins,” he said in a press release.


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