MERIDEN — The COVID-19 recovery center on Westfield Road took in its first patients Friday, joining a statewide network of centers serving as step-down facilities to free up hospital capacity.
Athena Health Care Systems, which opened the recovery center at the former Westfield Rehab facility, says it will initially take in about 30 patients and has the capacity to eventually take up to 90 patients.
The facility’s administrator, Donna Orefice, took the Record-Journal on a tour this week prior to patients arriving. Here are some things to know about the facility.
Connecticut is one of a handful of states that has opened step-down facilities at former nursing homes or in separate building wings of existing nursing homes to free up hospital beds. The centers will treat patients who have been discharged from the hospital and no longer require acute care.
At Yale-New Haven Hospital alone, Orefice said there are upwards of 440 positive patients that are ready to be transferred out.
“They either go home from the hospital or they’re going to need rehab, so Yale’s going to look to transfer those residents out so they can take more sick people,” Orefice said.
While many of the patients admitted to the Meriden recovery center will be elderly, Orefice said the center will treat people of all ages.
“They’re going to need some rehab because they’ve been in the hospital for, you know, two weeks, three weeks, two months or more, and they become deconditioned so they’re going to need strengthening, they’re going to need rehab,” Orefice said.
Patients will be discharged from the recovery facility after testing negative for the virus on two tests taken more than 24 hours apart.
Athena Health Care Systems is leasing the former Westfield Rehab facility from Apple Rehab, which closed the building months back due to large financial losses. The Meriden recovery center is the fourth opened by Athena, with other centers in Bridgeport, Sharon, and Torrington.
A spokesman for the Department of Public Health recently told Reuters that when all the planned recovery facilities are up and running, the state will have 800 beds available, with a goal of adding 375 more.
The Meriden center will be staffed with two registered nurses and five certified nursing assistants for every 30 patients. The facility has three wings each with 30 beds, so each nurse will be assigned to a wing.
“It’s very robust,” Orefice said about the staffing.
Orefice said staff has been “receptive” to the idea of working in a COVID-only facility, she said.
“Because everybody is COVID-positive, they know it's the same infection control policies from one room to another. They don’t have to worry about cross-contaminating anybody else,” she said.
Orefice said the facility is opening stocked with a comprehensive supply of personal protective equipment or PPE — tieback coverall gowns, face shields, face masks, gloves. She estimated they currently have enough equipment to last three to four weeks. PPE at the facility will last longer because nurses won’t need to change out of equipment going from treating infected patients to non-infected patients, said Tim Brown, director of marketing and public relations for Athena.
The facility will be closed to visitors at all times. Staff will be screened for symptoms and have their temperature and oxygen saturation taken when entering the building. Like at hospitals, workers will only be tested for COVID-19 when they show symptoms.
Most of the staff at the center are local, but Orefice said one nurse who lives in Arizona and is licensed to practice in Connecticut drove across the country this week to help out.
The recovery center was converted from a nursing home. Brown said about 30 members of the National Guard helped set up this week by moving in furniture and beds. Orefice thanked the National Guard and Laudano’s Apizza in Meriden for feeding the guardsmen this week.
All of the facility’s rooms are on the first floor and have a window, which Orefice said will allow family members to see and talk to their loved ones as they recover.
“it’s going to be nice for residents who have been in the hospital all this time, who haven’t been able to have contact really outside of a Facetime or Skype, now they’re at least going to be able to see them,” she said.
While some recovery centers in Connecticut are being opened in vacant former nursing facilities, others are being opened in separate sections of existing facilities, including a recovery center opening at Quinnipiac Valley Center in Wallingford. A spokesperson this week said there is no definite date for opening yet.
As of Thursday, Quinnipiac Valley Center, which is licensed for 180 beds, has had 42 residents test positive for COVID-19, with five fatalities.
Stephen Civitelli, Wallingford’s health director, told the Town Council this week that while the facility was originally intended to be used for patients discharged from the hospital, given the number of infections at Quinnipiac Valley Center, the nursing home will now use that space to isolate their own residents who have tested positive.