A health care worker holds a sign demanding more personal protective equipment during a rally in Hartford. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org
A health care worker holds a sign demanding more personal protective equipment during a rally in Hartford. Cloe Poisson / CTMirror.org

In an effort to “beef up” in-person inspections of one of the sectors hardest hit by coronavirus, about 40 members of the National Guard will assist Department of Public Health workers in surveying nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, officials said Monday.

The state has visited about 130 nursing homes so far, checking on infection controls and the level of personal protective gear, conducting surveys with workers, and monitoring staffing levels. A few employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also begun visiting nursing homes and other long-term care centers in Connecticut.

The addition of the National Guard members – who are trained medical professionals – follows two attacks on Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration by the state’s largest health care workers union.

For more than a week, Lamont had been touting the “physical” and “on-site” inspections of nursing homes conducted by the public health department.

But Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 Health Care New England, charged that health officials were conducting many of these inspections remotely and the department was looking the other way as many nursing homes hoarded protective gear to save money. The union has filed grievances and instituted other jobs actions at more than 40 facilities.

Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, confirmed Friday that more than 100 inspections had been performed in person by state health officials, but also that “several dozen” others had been conducted using the FaceTime video function on a smart phone.

On Monday, health officials said the National Guard members would supplement the in-person efforts.

“We are stepping up monitoring capability … beefing up the number of people we have going in and observing what’s going on in nursing homes,” said Av Harris, a spokesman for the public health department. “We decided it was best to be able to physically be present as much as possible at all the nursing homes. We needed to add to personnel in order to do that. So that’s what the National Guard people are doing.”

Harris said the 40 National Guard members, along with some 30 public health employees, will visit all 213 state nursing homes more than once. The Guard members will continue working with the health department for an indefinite period of time.

The most recent state data available show that by April 22, 768 nursing home residents had died after contracting COVID-19. Those fatalities represented 50% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Connecticut.  More than 3,400 residents had been infected.

Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut’s nursing homes now have at least one resident with coronavirus, an analysis of the data by the CT Mirror show. More than half of the facilities have recorded at least one death.

In one out of every 10 nursing homes, at least 10% of the residents have died.

Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents about 145 nursing homes, said he welcomes the additional oversight.

“Part of a successful COVID-19 strategy would be to have a handle on where there are issues, where things are going well, and where things may need to be shored up,” he said. “We support the visitations and checking for [protective gear], compliance, and infection control across the sector … because that’s part of the strategy of identifying resources and directing them to where they’re needed.”

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.

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