COVID second wave threatens CT nursing homes
As health officials raise concerns about a potential second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, advocates for nursing home residents say they’re increasingly worried about the conditions inside the facilities.
“We know we need to do a better job. We can’t just go back to the same old, same old,” said Richard Mollot, executive director of The Long Term Care Community Coalition, a New York non-profit that advocates for residents.
The threat of a second wave prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to announce the state will hire an organization to lead an independent review of what went wrong at nursing homes, and in the state’s response to the crisis. The review is also expected to make recommendations on how to lessen the impact of a second wave.
But with visitation strictly curtailed at most nursing homes, Mollot said he regularly hears from family members who say they are watching their loved ones suffer from a lack of care and contact with family.
“We know people die from lack of contact,” Mollot recalled a clinician saying during a recent panel. “We rarely do that to people in jail — put them in solitary,” he said.
But “that’s essentially what we’ve done” to residents of nursing homes, he said.
He said one New York home took a different approach: Hiring up hospitality and entertainment workers laid off in the economic shutdown to help with sanitation and taught lessons on how to use iPads.
Nationwide, nursing home residents and staff comprise around 43 percent of the deaths from COVID-19, according to an analysis published in the New York Times. In Connecticut, the figure is more than 72 percent — including staff and residents of both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
One “devastating” factor in the first wave was how coronavirus spread from patients showing no symptoms, according to Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents nursing homes.
“We know this now and this is why testing and PPE will make an enormous difference now and into the second wave,” Barrett said in an email, using an acronym for personal protective equipment. “But the scientific and medical community, and corresponding directives from the CDC and state regulators just didn’t understand this until March,” he said.
That meant nursing homes were trying to track who had the disease through their symptoms, while carriers who didn’t show outward signs of the illness brought it into the homes, he explained.
“We don’t just need to be prepared for a second wave of coronavirus, we need to be better prepared for any other infectious disease that can come along,” said state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, co-chairwoman of the bipartisan women’s caucus.
She suggested the state could develop a “rapid response team” of volunteers trained to help the Department of Public Health in nursing homes if a similar situation happens again.
Barrett highlighted Connecticut’s efforts to inspect every nursing home, and noted the state set up COVID-19 recovery centers to help with capacity at hospitals and to move residents who test positive out of nursing homes.
Borer said her caucus is focused on five issues at nursing homes: supplies of PPE, staffing, testing, oversight and communication.
“I hope the nursing homes are coming up with a better communication plan with families, but I think that trust needs to be built again,” Borer said.