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State-run congregate living facilities for the mentally ill and disabled struggle to contain COVID

COVID-19 is preying on populations in congregate living situations where it’s difficult to socially distance. But what is the state doing about it?

SOUTHBURY, Conn. — Some state run residential facilities are feeling the deadly impact of COVID-19. On Wednesday we dug deep into the infection numbers for institutions that care for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill.

From the beginning, FOX61 has been committed to being a voice for the vulnerable. COVID-19 is preying on populations in congregate living situations where it’s difficult to socially distance. But what is the state doing about it?

In Middletown, the sprawling and somewhat ominous structures that make up Connecticut Valley Hospital and Whiting Forensics are fighting the virus. They are psychiatric hospitals that house the criminally mentally ill, some in restraint beds.

"I just really think because it’s a state run facility that we should be hearing the numbers," said Donna Denehy of Plainville. They are another vulnerable population to COVID-19. FOX61 got those numbers. 10 patients and 9 staff are infected at Connecticut Valley Hospital. 6 patients and 12 staff have tested positive at Whiting. In total, 16 patients and 29 staff are COVID-positive across the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Network of facilities.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon is the agency’s Commissoner and shared with FOX61 a few of the steps they are taking. "So for example rather than an entire unit having lunch or dinner all at once we are breaking them into smaller groups and staggering meal times."

DHMAS has logged one patient death at a different facility. They've also seen patient recoveries. "What in fact we have seen at both Whiting and CVH is a number of our patients who diagnosed as positive have recovered," said Commissioner Delphin-Rittmon.

35 miles away, the Southbury Training School in Southbury provides a less restrictive supportive home to hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities. "They are talking every day about the hospitals and the nursing homes, yet these state run facilities like Southbury Training School are excluded," said Donna Denehy. "People who are bedridden in there. So they are not mobile and they can’t get up and get around."

They are managed under the umbrella of the Department of Disability Services. Donna Denehy’s friend works there. She said there been a lack of transparency. "Any state run facility should be accountable just like the nursing homes are and how the hospitals are," she said.

The Department of Disability Services declined an interview. But they sent FOX61 at statement that read, in part, “DDS sends our deepest condolences to the family and everyone affected...Our highest priority is to keep the residents of STS and the staff healthy, while continuing to provide the highest quality of care possible in a safe environment during this extraordinarily difficult time.”

19 residents and 13 staff have COVID at the training school. Two members of their staff have died. "It is a bit of a frightening situation." DDS says they are working to stop the spread by converting three buildings to isolation centers. They are providing staff with protective equipment and giving them a health screening before entering resident homes.