Nursing home leaders have proposed at least nine facilities where residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 could be moved to avoid spreading the disease to the rest of the population.
The facilities, some of which are vacant buildings, would collectively provide about 1,000 beds for people who have tested positive for the virus. Those facilities would take in ill residents from existing nursing homes and assisted living centers, as well as hospitals.
Nursing home operators have suggested moving healthy residents out of buildings where others have tested positive. Those buildings would then become facilities dedicated to COVID-19-positive residents. The healthy residents would be re-routed to nursing homes where others have tested negative for coronavirus.
Matthew Barrett, head of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, also sent a list of vacant or recently shuttered nursing facilities to state officials. At least two of them could be retrofitted to house sick people, he said, though those buildings would take longer to get into shape than buildings that already are operational.
“If COVID-19 gets into a nursing facility, it’s very difficult to stop its spread,” Barrett said. “The trick is to keep it from getting into the building. When you find people in the building that have it, try to get those people out of the facility, or get the well people out. So we’re looking at the concept of COVID-19 specific nursing facilities, at least for the time being during the pandemic.”
Athena Health Care Systems, the parent company of the Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford Springs, where three residents died of coronavirus and several others contracted the disease, has offered two buildings that could be designated for COVID-19 positive residents. One of those buildings is Evergreen. The other is the Sharon Health Care Center in Sharon, where at least one resident has tested positive for COVID-19.
Athena has 54 nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home health care agencies across Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Four other companies that operate multiple nursing homes in Connecticut have offered to clear out buildings so COVID-19-positive people could move in, Barrett said, though he declined to name them.
Nursing home leaders are waiting on approval from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to proceed with moving residents and retrofitting empty facilities.
It was unclear Monday how quickly plans for the COVID-19 specific buildings would be acted on. A spokesman for Lamont could not be reached for comment.
With regard to the Athena facilities, Barrett said they could be ready to move residents around “within days.”
But concerns loom for the newly designated buildings.
Nursing home leaders are still trying to figure out how staff would be divided among the facilities. And for the workers who are assigned to the COVID-19-positive buildings, adequate protective gear must be supplied, Barrett said.
Union officials and nursing home workers across Connecticut have complained about a dearth of masks and gloves, among other equipment.
Worker pay is also likely to become an issue, officials said. Employees staffing the COVID-19-positive buildings probably will demand higher compensation.
“These are gigantic challenges,” Barrett said.
Access to testing would be crucial for those working in the nursing homes, advocates said. In many cases, nursing home workers and employees at other care facilities have still been required to get a doctor’s referral for a test, even if they have been directly exposed to residents who test positive.
Lamont said Monday that the state would soon make testing a priority for nursing home workers.