State officials told nursing homes to bar visitors except in special circumstances. C-HIT.ORG
State officials told nursing home operators to bar visitors except in special circumstances. C-HIT.ORG

The state directed Connecticut nursing homes Monday to limit visitors primarily to family and friends of dying patients as state officials stepped up efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“We’re really taking a firm line on this, because all the data from around the world has been clear that that population is by far the most at risk,” said Josh Geballe, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief operating officer. “We have to take very strong measures to prevent a spread like we saw in Washington (State).”

Lamont’s staff urged Connecticut’s 213 nursing homes to stem the flow of visitors as the state braces for an influx of coronavirus cases. Two people have tested positive for the disease in the state, a Wilton resident and a person from the Bridgeport area.

Two New York residents who work at Connecticut hospitals also have tested positive for the virus.

“Connecticut nursing homes are expecting, and will be demanding, cooperation from persons entering skilled nursing facilities.”

CEO Matthew Barrett
CT Association of Health Care Facilities

More than 100,000 cases have been recorded around the world, with just over 4,000 deaths.

The head of the state’s largest nursing home association said Monday that while facilities already have enacted stringent protocols to screen visitors, they would comply with the state’s new directive and any subsequent ones.

“Connecticut nursing homes are expecting, and will be demanding, cooperation from persons entering skilled nursing facilities,” said Matthew Barrett, CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities. “The consequences are too severe.”

The facilities generally discourage visits during influenza season. Barrett, whose group represents 145 nursing homes in Connecticut, said staff typically screen people who exhibit symptoms of respiratory illness, including coughing, sneezing and congestion. Late last week, they also began inquiring about visitors’ travel history and barring people who had recently returned from China, Italy, Iran and any other heavily affected areas.

The consequences for Connecticut’s elderly could be severe if the coronavirus is introduced into nursing homes. The World Health Organization recently reported that the mortality rate for people over age 80 is 20%.

“We support the additional restrictions now required,” Barrett said. “The number one issue that nursing homes are concerned about is how you could prevent COVID-19 from entering your building.”

SEIU 1199 President Rob Baril, center, sent a letter to nursing home managers and others seeking details about coronavirus preparedness.

Facility managers also discussed protocols on hospital patient transfers that occur regularly throughout the year.

Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, which represents about 40 nursing homes, said staff members are fielding questions about the restriction on visitors and are exploring other ways to put people in touch with their loved ones, like video chats and phone calls.

“This could be a personal hardship for people, but I’m sure the nursing homes will work with everyone to keep residents safe,” she said.

Staffing concerns surface

As state officials took steps to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus, labor leaders contemplated how to address staffing shortages in nursing homes should an outbreak occur in Connecticut.

Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199, the largest health-care worker union in the state, wrote to managers of those facilities asking them to outline a plan for securing enough staff, setting up isolation rooms and managing sick leave policies.

The union is concerned the coronavirus will test an already-strapped system.

“How austere can you be in the health care sector and be ready to face a situation like this?” Pedro Zayas, a spokesman for 1199, said. “On a regular day, a lot of these homes are short staffed, so it would be a tragedy if people start getting sick. Who is going to keep caring for nursing home residents?”

Labor officials also are considering how to help home-care workers, many of whom can’t afford to miss a shift and don’t have paid sick leave.

“On a regular day, a lot of these homes are short staffed, so it would be a tragedy if people start getting sick. Who is going to keep caring for nursing home residents?”

Pedro Zayas
SEIU 1199

“We want to discourage them from showing up when they’re sick, but there is no safeguard for them in terms of sick days or vacation days,” Zayas said. “If they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. And as the lowest-paid workers, most of them are living a paycheck behind, not paycheck to paycheck.”

Chelsea Daniels, a nurse at Fresh River Healthcare nursing home in East Windsor, said Monday that staff had not yet received guidance on how to prepare for or respond to a coronavirus outbreak.

Instead, they are operating under the same rules used when people get the flu – shutting down the areas affected by the virus and limiting the number of employees who can access those places. They also may limit visits from loved ones and recommend that sick workers stay home.

“Nursing homes seem to deal with problems when a problem arises,” she said. “That is something that needs to be improved.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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