State health inspectors and the Connecticut National Guard are working with nursing homes to monitor personal protective equipment use and staffing levels.
As of Wednesday, the number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes increased from 4,814 reported last week to 6,008, according to the state Department of Public Health. Patient deaths rose to 1,228 with 399 considered probable.
Several local nursing homes saw sharp spikes. Masonicare in Wallingford reported nine new cases in its isolated Surge unit after blanket testing its residents. Silver Springs in Meriden saw 22 new cases, bringing the total number of infected patients to 55. The nursing home also reported three additional deaths.
“The (state was) doing inspections remotely,” said Pedro Zayas, spokesman for the New England Health Care Employees Union. “The union had serious objections to that. Family members are not going in and the state is not going in.”
Members of the National Guard are accompanying health department inspectors, some union members, to inspect supply and use of personal protective equipment, and staffing levels. Guard members are conducting training in PPE use, if needed. According to the DPH, letters of violation have gone out to long-term health care centers, who have 10 days to detail plans for corrective action.
Once the plans are accepted by the department, the state will release the reports to the public, state officials have said.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration has said there will be no fines attached to the COVID-19 inspections, but the union wants some action against violators.
“We are wondering with so many fatalities, why is there no disciplinary action?” Zayas said. “We need to have that level of action with this death toll.”
Josh Geballe, Gov. Lamont’s chief administrative officer, said nursing homes having the most problems are getting the support from the state, adding many were unprepared for the rapid spread of the virus.
In addition to weekly reports on the number of infections and deaths, the state will begin releasing the number of recoveries.
“The nursing homes are doing exceptional,” Geballe said.
Zayas and others praised the state for restricting visitors in early March. But the late arrival of protective equipment for workers and the shortage of tests hurt efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Infected staff and patients who didn’t show signs of infection for days, or not at all, were unknowingly carriers. He believes more patients are being tested, but is concerned about staff.
Masonicare conducted blanket testing of its health care unit patients and identified eight positive patients who were transferred to its separate 30-bed isolation unit.
“While test kits remain limited, Masonicare has not had a problem accessing them for the residents in our care,” said Ann Collette, vice president of strategy and business development for Masonicare.
Staff are screened for temperature on each shift and fill out a questionnaire on travel and COVID-19 related symptoms. Employees with symptoms are tested through Masonicare, and those with positive results are required to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days, Collette said.
The need for blanket staff testing has become critical as health care officials determine that a large percentage of asymptomatic workers are coming into contact with patients.
Lamont addressed the issue in his Thursday COVID-19 briefing. His goal is to increasing testing to 42,000 a week for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, workers and the general public.
“That’s double the amount of testing we’re doing right now,” Lamont said. “We’ll start testing asymptomatic pateints and staff. We will continue to focus on the nursing homes, the direct care workers and first responders. We owe it to them to do the very best we can to keep them safe.”
“We are now sending teams into our nursing homes to test,” added Geballe. “We have dramatically increased testing at our nursing homes.”
Several nursing homes with staffing and other issues prior to the pandemic are reporting high infection numbers. For instance, Montowese Health and Rehab Center in North Haven had a a “much below average” rating and scored “much below average” during its last state inspection. As of May 6, the center had 78 residents test positive, nine deaths and one probable.
The Summit at Plantsville had 18 new patients and now stands at 48 infected residents, nine deaths and two probables. It had a below average rating prior to the pandemic.
But not all nursing homes with sub par ratings are struggling with infections. And some nursing homes with above average ratings, such as Silver Springs in Meriden, are seeing spikes in infection. Silver Springs reported it now has 55 active cases and three deaths.
“We are seeing some high-rated nursing homes with large infection numbers,” Zayas said.
The Bradley Home in Meriden is rated above average and has no infections. Executive Director Molly Savard credits the facility’s small size and less traffic than rehabilitation centers.
Savard also credits the Bradley Home staff for their diligence reporting potential contacts and self-isolating when sick. She also acknowledges Bradley Home has been fortunate.