Bipartisan Caucus Seeks Expanded Nursing Home Virus Review

AP
June 17, 2020 - 8:09 am
Gov. Ned Lamont holds news conference in his office, 2/19/20

Aaron Kupec/WTIC Radio photo

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTIC and AP) — A bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers gave Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont a list of issues Tuesday to be reviewed in an upcoming, independent third-party investigation into the preparation and response to the coronavirus inside nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The detailed request by the Women’s Bipartisan Legislative Caucus includes questions about the prevalence of state inspections before and during the pandemic; cleaning policies at the homes; the handling of asymptomatic residents and new residents to a facility; staffing ratios before and during the pandemic; the availability of personal protective equipment and numerous other issues.

"We need to know what happened, what worked, what didn’t work and what could we learn from it,” said Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, the group’s co-chairwoman. She also said the review should examine how the state’s chain of command worked, from the governor’s office to agency departments, as the prospect of a possible new wave of the coronavius looms this fall.

The legislature’s women’s caucus, made up of about five dozen female members of the House of Representatives and Senate from both political parties, was formed in 2018.

Lamont, who attended a news conference on the state Capitol steps with members of the women's caucus, announced last week that he ordered the review. Out of a total of 21,771 licensed nursing home beds in the state, there have been nearly 2,700 deaths related to coronavirus.

Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, told a harrowing personal story about how her father-in-law died from the coronavirus even though his nursing home was still telling families it was virus-free more than two weeks after his death. Ultimately, the 160-bed facility had 127 cases, 42 patient deaths and one staff death, she said.

“How did COVID get there? Was he the first resident with COVID? How could this be possible," she asked.

Lamont, a Democrat, said he welcomed the upcoming review. A request for proposals from third-party experts was released late last week.

“That’s why we’re doing this study, to make sure we can learn, make sure that there’s a second wave, we get this right,” he said. The nursing home and assisted living industry has also said it welcomes the review.

The New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU 1199NE, a union that represents many nursing home workers, unveiled a proposed “Bill of Rights” on Tuesday for long-term care workers. It includes various demands, including increased Medicaid funding, personal protective equipment, health care security, better compensation, paid sick leave and family medical leave, support for child care and protections for whistleblowers.

As of Tuesday, there have been 45,349 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 114 since Monday. The number of COVID-associated deaths increased by six to 4,210 people, while the number of hospitalizations dropped to 201.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or lead to death.

In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:

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MORE BUSINESSES TO REOPEN

While states like Texas and Florida have recently seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases, Lamont said Tuesday there's still a low rate of positive cases in Connecticut and surrounding states. And that's good news, he said, as Connecticut moves to reopen more businesses with various limitations on Wednesday, including indoor restaurant dining, amusement parks, nail salons and hotels.

“It’s good news for us. That’s one reason we can feel more confident about opening up of restaurants and the such,” he said. “Even though some people from New York may be coming up, they don’t have a high infection rate. They have a low infection rate now going forward.”

Also starting Wednesday, the number of people who can attend private gatherings will increase to up to 25 indoors and up to 100 outdoors. It's been limited to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors. Outdoor event venues, such as amphitheaters and race tracks, will also be allowed to open but at 25% of fire capacity limits.

Bigger outdoor gatherings with up to 250 people, such as weddings, will be allowed in mid-July. A specific date has not yet been determined. That's also when up to 50 people will be allowed at indoor private gatherings and when outdoor event venues will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

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INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS

Lamont said his administration is looking at how to handle next month's Independence Day celebrations. The governor said people who want to watch fireworks celebrations should take some lessons from beach-goers: put a blanket down, stay with a group of people who they have been “hanging out with for a while,” and keep about 15 feet away from the next group of people.

“I think that’s a way that we can maintain our social distance to be able to enjoy the fireworks in a real way,” he said. Lamont said his administration plans to work with organizers to cap the number of spectators at 500 and possibly impose limits on parking, like at the state's parks and beaches, to reduce the crowd sizes. Details released Tuesday evening by Lamont's office said event organizers will be responsible for complying with the state's guidance.