CONNECTICUT — Connecticut is resorting to more drastic measures at nursing homes after several coronavirus deaths and infections. The state is formulating a plan to designate certain nursing homes for COVID-19 patients only.
"Unfortunately, we are at a point in this pandemic that more extreme precautions need to be taken," said state Long-Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter in a letter to nursing home residents and family members. "This is not something any of us ever thought would happen in our long-term care community, but these are unprecedented times."
The letter was obtained by Hearst Connecticut.
"This means that some nursing homes will have to move residents to another nursing home," Painter said. "Residents who have tested COVID-19 positive will be transferred to a nursing home that has been designated as a COVID-19 positive home."
Residents who haven’t tested positive and live in a COVID-19 designated home will be moved to another home. The temporary move could potentially last months.
Connecticut, like other states across the country, is particularly worried about the new coronavirus wreaking havoc at nursing homes and assisted living facilities that house people who have a higher risk of coronavirus complications.
Six former residents of the Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossing assisted living facility in Ridgefield have died of the coronavirus. Three former patients of The Evergreen Health Care Center in Strafford have died of the coronavirus and 12 patients and six staff members have been infected, according to the Hartford Courant. Some workers interviewed by the Courant said that there was confusion at the center and shortages of personal protective equipment. A spokesman for the parent company Athena Health Care said that the company requires such equipment for staff when interacting with a patient suspected of having COVID-19.
Athena said in a previous statement that it has been deep-cleaning the building and now takes the temperatures of all staff and patients at least once a shift.
Nursing Homes In Connecticut, U.S. Struggle With Infections
Nursing homes across the country and in Connecticut struggle to follow basic infection prevention protocols, according to a data analysis by Kaiser Health News and distributed by The Associated Press. About 63 percent of all U.S. nursing homes were cited for one or more infection-control deficiencies in the last four years with 23 percent being cited more than once.
Nursing homes with lower staffing levels tend to be cited more than better-staffed facilities, according to Kaiser Health News.
In Connecticut, 165 of 215 nursing homes were cited at least once in the past four years for at least one infection control deficiency; the report notes that all the deficiencies were later corrected. Many had isolated infection citation cases, but around 80 nursing homes in the report had two infection citations during the time period. (To sign up for free, local breaking news alerts from more than 100 Connecticut communities, click here.)
Evergreen Healthcare Center had no infection citations, according to Kaiser Health News. It has a 1-star rating for staffing and 2-star overall rating. Medicare rates nursing home staffing levels on a one to five star scale with five being the highest.
Overall 41 Connecticut nursing homes had infection citations that suggested a pattern of failure to follow protocol and 10 nursing homes had a scope level of “widespread.” Many of those labeled “widespread” were for waterborne diseases such as Legionella bacteria. The Kaiser Health News database contains details of violations, including some that don’t directly relate to diseases such as the coronavirus or influenza.
Connecticut coronavirus coverage
Caregivers Working Under Difficult Situations
Staffing and equipment cuts have compounded the challenge presented by the coronavirus, said Pedro Zayas, spokesman for The New England Health Care Employees Union. The union represents 19,000 caregivers in Connecticut, including about 7,000 nursing home workers.
"The austerity measures implemented in the healthcare sector has resulted, as predicted by workers, in an unsustainable shortage of workers and equipment," Zayas said. "These shortages undercut our readiness as a community to face emergencies like COVID-19."
Nursing home workers are also being challenged by a shortage of personal protective equipment and delays for COVID-19 testing, he said.
"Workers need protection so they can keep showing up to work in the front lines of this epidemic," Zayas said. "Patients must also be protected so they are not unnecessarily exposed to harmful pathogens."
Some health care workers have had a hard time getting tested for COVID- 19, he said. In some cases, workers have had to wait a week or more to get results during which they were in quarantine and unable to care for patients.
Many union members are the breadwinners of their families, Zayas said. There is a concern they may inadvertently bring the virus home to their families.
"They need to stay healthy and keep going to work to continue supporting their families," he said. "But they are very concerned about bringing this serious disease into their homes and becoming a vector for their loved ones. They are also concerned about having to quarantine themselves away from their homes or in their homes, and how those logistics would work out for their family members."
Zayas said that Gov. Ned Lamont, legislative leaders and state commissioners are responding to demands to preserve quality care, but there is a lot of work ahead to get back to safe community standards of care.
"Some nursing home operators are doing a good job communicating with workers," Zayas said. "Others are not showing that they are doing what must be done to ensure the healthy and safety of staff and residents. Union workers are organizing and raising their voices to address concerns at each facility."
SEIU 1199NE has organized two petitions. One petition asks for free child care for home care workers during the coronavirus crisis and a lift on overtime hours in case of staffing shortages among other issues. Another petition asks the state for hazard pay and paid sick days for home care workers until federal legislation takes effect.