CONNECTICUT, USA — It’s a statistic worth saying over and over. Nursing home COVID infections in Connecticut are down nearly 70% compared to three weeks ago. So, when will the visitor restriction be lifted? And should people be allowed to sue for alleged misconduct during the pandemic.
First, let this sink in. For just the week of January 12th, 312 nursing home residents had COVID. This week it was down to 101. "The data is just beyond encouraging," remarked Matt Barrett the CEO of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities. Drastically fewer people are getting infected and dying of COVID in Connecticut’s 570 long-term care facilities. Infections down 67% compared to three weeks ago. Deaths are down 58%, and infections among staff are also down 65%. "It’s pointing to the other side of the pandemic," said Barrett.
So, when will visitor restrictions be lifted? "We are encouraged and hoping that we will see guidance from CMS over the next few weeks," said state long-term care Ombudsman Mairead Painter.
Despite Connecticut being the first state to finish vaccinating nursing homes, the Center for Medicaid Services issues blanket visitation guidance on a national basis. Barring an executive order or state law, Connecticut may need to wait for the rest of the country to catch up. "I think we are going to need to see community spread dip down too much more negligible levels and we are going to have to have further guidance from the federal government," said Barrett.
But current guidance does allow any nursing homes that haven’t had a COVID case in two weeks to have indoor visitation, so as the vaccine continues to work, restrictions should be eased. "We need visitation to start, and we need people to have access to their loved ones as soon as possible," remarked Painter.
Then there’s the issue of civil immunity. Should families be able to sue for nursing homes during the pandemic? An issue Gov. Lamont has not given a clear answer. "That’s one of the things we have under consideration," he said during a recent press conference. However, a week prior he said, "That type of immunity makes some sense a little bit longer."
Senator Matt Lesser had filed a bill that, if passed, would override the Governor's executive authority. "I don’t know where the Governor stands. I hope he does the right thing here and I hope he recognizes that accountability is just a basic part of us doing our job," said Lesser.
But others say opening nursing homes up to lawsuits during a time of financial crisis and operating on razor-thin margins threatens to potentially collapse the industry. "I think that negligent nursing home operators may want to find another line of work. Not every home is properly run and if I nursing home isn’t willing to invest in infection control and safety, that’s a problem," remarked Lesser.