COVID-Only Nursing Homes Planned, Workers Say They Need Gear

AP
April 09, 2020 - 11:24 am

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTIC and AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont's administration laid out plans Wednesday for segregating nursing home residents who've tested positive for COVID-19 to help prevent further spread of the disease, while nursing home workers continued to express concerns about not having the equipment and staffing they need to stay safe on the job.

Members of SEIU 1199 New England, the largest health care union in Connecticut, told stories of workers wearing garbage bags for protection and reusing gear that normally would be tossed after a single use. Of the 69 homes staffed with District 1199 workers, 55 have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and eight have suspected cases.

“We are reusing masks. Some of us have limited access to gloves. We don't have access to gowns,” said Chelsea Daniels, an LPN at Fresh River Healthcare in East Windsor, a 144-bed skilled nursing facility. “We are at risk and nobody seems to care.”

Josh Geballe, Lamont's COO, said the supply chain for personal protective equipment has been disrupted but the state expects to see “a significant influx of PPE” in the coming days and weeks “that will alleviate the challenges we've been facing over the last couple of weeks.”

Barbara Cass, chief of health care quality and safety at the state Department of Public Health, said her agency has a call each morning with nursing homes and has been responding to reports of shortages. She said they've also opened up “messaging systems” to hear directly from front-line workers.

Meanwhile, in an effort to build nursing home capacity, Lamont announced Wednesday evening that “recovery centers” will be opened in Torrington, Bridgeport, Meriden and Sharon. The facilities, which will provide a total of more than 500 beds for COVID-19 patients, will receive $600 per-day per-patient, in addition to the planned 10% increase across the board for all nursing homes.

Since Tuesday, an additional 1,000 Connecticut residents have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 8,781. Approximately 1,418 patients have been hospitalized and there have been COVID-19 associated fatalities is 335.

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

In other developments around Connecticut:

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UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said his agency hopes to have a new “technical fix” in place in the coming days that will “seriously reduce” the backlog of unemployment applications. The agency was in the middle of upgrading its 40-year-old system when the coronavirus pandemic struck. About 302,000 jobless claims have been filed since March 13, two years of normal claim activity. So far 132,000 of those have been processed, ten times the normal weekly load.

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GREENWICH HOSPITAL CASES

A 206-bed hospital near the New York state line has been “kind of ground zero” for the coronavirus in Connecticut, with more than 100 patients now being treated for COVID-19 and more than 60 staff members having tested positive, according to hospital executives.

More than 60% of Greenwich Hospital’s current patients are from neighboring Westchester County, New York, Norman Roth, the hospital’s president and chief executive, said Tuesday. Sixteen patients have died since since the hospital’s first virus-positive patient test in mid-March, while the intensive care unit is treating 24 patients, including 22 on respirators, he said. Nearly 120 patients have been discharged to their homes or other care facilities. Despite the surge, Roth said supplies and staffing remain adequate.

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INFECTED INMATES TRANSFERRED

All Connecticut inmates infected with COVID-19 are being relocated to Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, a high-security prison. Department of Correction officials said federal guidance recommends correctional and detention facility establish medical isolation units where positive inmates are housed in cells with solid walls and solid doors that close fully. Each housing unit at Northern has a separate ventilation system that uses outside air.

One centralized treatment location will help preserve the agency’s inventory of personal protection equipment and maximize the efficiency of medical staff, officials said. Other medical isolation units will be set up at locations where transfers to Northern are not appropriate.

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NURSING HOME INVESTIGATION

The chief medical examiner’s office is investigating several deaths at a Milford nursing home and rehabilitation center, after changing the cause of death for one resident to having likely been linked to COVID-19.

The initial cause of death for Jean Auclair at Golden Hill Rehabilitation Pavilion was respiratory failure, with no mention of COVID-19, officials said. More than 40 residents at the 120-bed care center have tested positive for the disease.

Dr. James Gill, the chief medical examiner, said Wednesday his office changed the cause of death to “acute respiratory infection due to probable” coronavirus infection.

It’s not clear how many residents at the facility have died from COVID-19. Gill said Golden Hill staff have certified some deaths as being related to the disease, and the medical examiner’s office is investigating other deaths.

The state Department of Public Health also is investigating several pneumonia deaths, staffing levels and other issues at Golden Hill, state officials said.

Andrew Wildman, executive director at Golden Hill, told Hearst Connecticut Media in an email that complaints about staffing levels and the health of employees were “false rumors” and there is adequate staff to meet residents’ needs. He did not say how many residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

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GENERAL ASSEMBLY DELAYED

Democratic and Republican legislative leaders announced Wednesday that legislative business, including committee meetings and public hearings, will now be postponed until April 23 instead of April 12. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on May 6. Lawmakers passed a two-year state budget last year and had planned to make adjustments to that plan.