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Cape Hospitals Can't Open COVID-19 Step-Down Unit, CEO Says

Cape Cod Healthcare says it cannot open a COVID-19 step-down unit because staff and money are stretched too thin.

The health system received a necessary state license extension on Wednesday, but the state is not providing the same funding package as in the spring.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the state decided it would no longer fund stand-alone step-down units, and has instead asked hospitals to apply for money for isolation wings or units.

Mike Lauf, CEO of Cape Cod Healthcare, told CAI he will not be able to open a COVID-19 step-down unit under those conditions.

“Due to staffing and resource constraints,” he said in a written statement, “we at CCHC will be unable to proceed with the application and set up of a step down unit at this time.”

The health system had hoped to relieve potential crowding at its hospitals during the surge in coronavirus cases by reopening the former Royal Falmouth nursing home, one of two former nursing homes opened for the same purpose last spring.

The facility would accept recovering COVID-19 patients who no longer needed hospitalization. 

To do that, Cape Cod Healthcare needed a state license extension.

Eight state legislators from Cape Cod and the Islands wrote to the state in mid December asking for the extension, and Sudders replied in writing Wednesday. She said she had granted the extension but was not providing for stand-alone facilities.

Lauf thanked the legislative delegation for advocating on behalf of Cape Cod Healthcare and its employees and patients.

Meanwhile, the city of New Bedford plans to open a stand-alone facility Jan. 19.

Mayor Jon Mitchell said the city retained control of two nursing homes it leased last spring and plans to reopen the larger one, with 123 beds. He said he anticipates receiving federal reimbursement for the cost of the lease. 

The facility at 4586 Acushnet Ave. will be operated by Essex Group, a nursing home management company.

Mitchell said such facilities need state approval to receive payments from MassHealth.

“That took a little bit of time for the state to agree to,” he said.


Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.