Nursing home deaths account for 57.6% of all state COID-19 fatalities.

In late March, in the early days of the pandemic in Connecticut, a 65- year-old man who cannot walk and is incontinent received notice that the nursing home where he lives is seeking to discharge him to a homeless shelter.  While there is a moratorium on filing new evictions through July 1, there is not as yet a moratorium on involuntary nursing home discharges.

Elderly nursing home residents face discharge even as homeless shelters are forced to close to new residents, and shelter staff and the state scramble to “decompress” shelters by housing the homeless temporarily in hotels.  The governor should order nursing homes to suspend involuntary discharge for the duration of the public health emergency.

Under federal regulations and Connecticut state law, nursing home residents are entitled to notice and a hearing before discharge.  In the public health emergency, however, nursing home residents cannot meet in person with family and other support networks, since the facilities are closed to visitors.  Elderly residents may not understand that they can appeal.

For those who do appeal, DSS is still scheduling hearings, which DSS is conducting by telephone.  Telephone hearings, however, are too likely to disadvantage an elderly resident who cannot make their case face-to-face with the decision-maker.  Although DSS has granted continuances when legal services attorneys are involved, self-represented individuals may not know to ask for a continuance.

Sadly, Connecticut already has witnessed that people in nursing homes are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and that the elderly are the most at risk.  It makes no sense, and is in fact counter-productive, to threaten this vulnerable group with release to homeless shelters or the streets during the pandemic. Involuntary discharge is not a viable option during a state of emergency when a discharge could impact the health of the resident as well as the community.

The governor should suspend non-pandemic-related involuntary nursing home discharges for the duration of the public health emergency, just as the state has suspended evictions.  This is a simple step to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, and to ensure that we do not increase the homeless population in this critical time.

Sue Garten, Greater Hartford Legal Aid; Shelley White, New Haven Legal Assistance; and Kevin Brophy, Connecticut Legal Services.

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