SIMSBURY, Conn. — Its arguably the most tragic story of the pandemic. The loss of life at nursing homes. So what lessons can we learn right now to help prepare for a possible second wave in the fall. Keep in mind that before we get to a second wave we need to get through this first wave. And although overall, the state is on the backside of the curve, skilled nursing facilities are on a different curve and told me they believe they haven’t even reach the peak yet.
COVID-19 has taken its deadly foothold in Connecticut’s nursing homes where the vulnerable population has fallen victim to the invisible beast. When you total confirmed and suspected COVID deaths in both nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it equals a staggering 70% of the total confirmed COVID deaths in CT.
In Bristol, family owned and operated Shady Oaks has created a COVID free bubble with staff living quarantined in RVs on site. "They stopped commenting. I stopped commuting. I sleep in my office," said owner Tyson Belanger. While just down the road, Athena Healthcare’s Countryside Manor and Sheriden Woods have seen COVID outbreaks. Here is a look at the most current infection and deaths statistics. "There’s a nursing home in our town that has over 22 deaths and it’s right down the street from us. We know people who have lived there and died there. We know people who work there," said Belanger.
The numbers at two skilled nursing facilities in Simsbury also shake out differently. With Genesis Healthcare’s The Governor’s House reporting 2 infections, while McLean Health Care and Assisted Living, which is a non-profit that also has homecare and hospice patients has seen 30 infections and 6 deaths. They have implemented a strict infection control strategy. "As we’ve talked to the Department of Public Health one of the things they’ve been impressed with what we are doing is truly cohorting and waiting for that negative test. We are not just going by symptoms. I believe that has really diminished the spread of this illness," said McLean Vice President Lisa Clark.
Matt Barrett is the President of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities. He told FOX61 there are three ingredients to a successful strategy. It starts with testing. "Wide-scale testing is now just becoming available and a priority for skilled nursing facilities," said Barrett. The continued stockpiling of still hard to get PPE is number 2. "The quality of the gown that are coming are not the same level that we got pre-COVID. I know the industry is making them fast and furious and they are satisfactory for our staff to protect them but literally we are praying every day that we get the next shipment in," remarked Clark. And the third ingredient is there needs to be more stable staffing. "Nursing homes even pre-COVID had underlying staffing issues and so we need to continue to assure that staffing is going to be available and it’s directly related to testing and it’s directly related to PPE. If you don’t have one our efforts are going to fail," said Barrett.
Also as we look ahead, nursing facilities told me they are formulating plans for outdoor socially distanced visits where residents without COVID can meet with a family member in full PPE for a little sun.