This Worcester COVID recovery center allows older patients who live alone or need skilled care to get treatment from familiar faces

As cases of COVID-19 remain high in Massachusetts, prompting a need for coronavirus recovery sites, Fallon Health has launched a center in Worcester focused on giving older patients care from familiar faces.

At the COVID Recovery Center on the grounds of the Briarwood Community in Worcester, participants of Fallon Health Summit ElderCare who have the coronavirus and live alone, or who don’t need to be hospitalized but do need oversight or daily skilled services, will be able to receive care from health professionals they already know.

The recovery center launched recently as a temporary site dedicated to those Summit ElderCare participants, Fallon officials said. On Friday, five participants were being treated at the center, where staffers are work to keep the participants both healthy and not isolated. Length of stay varies depending on symptoms and needs.

Jennifer Maynard, the Fallon Health Summit ElderCare site director, said health care professionals are treating a range of symptoms among the participants, many of whom are at high risk for complications of the virus.

“Some folks have very mild or no symptoms, something like a higher temp at night, however, I would say predominately what we do see is some increased respiratory distress,” Maynard said. “When they’re moving around, they get more short of breath, perhaps their fall risk increases because of that, and they might be requiring more medical management from a nursing perspective.”

Fallon, a community-based non-profit, has been working to help support older patients within its Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), who are at high risk for complications of the coronavirus. The Summit ElderCare program is a joint Medicare and Medicaid and PACE program for people age 55 and older who need assistance and qualify for nursing home care, but want to live independently. Summit has 1,200 participants enrolled.

Treatment at the center is part of an effort to keep hospitals and rehabilitation facilities from becoming overwhelmed, especially for participants who would have otherwise recovered at home, potentially increasing their risk of suffering something like a fall.

The center will also be utilized for participants who can’t get the care they need from the assisted living facility at which they reside, and will provide a place for participants who need end-of-life care, as health professionals won’t go into a COVID-positive home for treatment.

“Based upon where they live, it can be really difficult for them to quarantine and thereby limit the folks around them from that exposure,” Maynard said.

Michelle Malkoski, the director of quality and risk for Summit ElderCare and Fallon Health Weinberg PACE, noted that because PACE is an interdisciplinary program, Fallon has the ability to bring in rehabilitation staff, occupational therapy and physical therapy to help with recovery.

“With the current demand on skilled nursing facilities and state imposed admission freezes, we are pleased to be able to quickly set up the ‘COVID Recovery Center’— an alternative space for our participants to receive care from health professionals they already know and trust — while simultaneously doing our part to support the health care system,” said Kris Bostek, the vice president of Fallon Health Summit ElderCare and Fallon Health Weinberg PACE.

Fallon previously transformed its newest PACE site at 288 Grove St. in Worcester into a 24/7 infirmary that served 11 participants when it was open from April 11 to June 5. Having that experience helped Fallon prepare to set up its COVID Recovery Center, Bostek said.

“We had, fortunately and also unfortunately, experience doing something similar back during the first surge,” Bostek said. “So when the second surge came about in November-ish time frame, and we were starting to again see an incredible need … we came back as a leadership group and started to talk about what are our options.”

A key part of the recovery center is having space for the participants so they can interact. Through the pandemic, isolation has been a chief concern with older people as social distancing measures have been necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

“It’s a huge challenge for anyone, particularly for older people who may live alone,” Bostek said. “The socialization piece is pretty important to help them improve their health quicker, potentially. We all talk about the physical impact of COVID or the symptoms you might have but in terms of the emotional and mental toll that this pandemic is taking on people, that has an impact on their health and wellbeing as well.”

Additionally, the center has iPads and other ways to help keep participants connected with families while they recover.

Fallon has arranged to use Briarwood for eight weeks, but will assess the need for the center depending on how the virus develops.