The images and narratives portraying daily life in Connecticut nursing homes are doing their best to tell the story of nursing home care during this historic moment in time. But one portrayal, one image, cannot truly convey the heroic stories of triumph and tragedy that are unfolding during this unprecedented public health crisis.
While the final story is not yet written, one thing is perfectly clear — it will be a story of people and communities coming together, supporting each other and working tirelessly to fulfill their mission of providing compassionate nursing home care to their residents during a time of crisis.
When you view images of families conversing with loved ones through nursing home windows, please know that behind those windows are communities of dedicated staff providing nursing and rehabilitative care during this historic time of COVID-19. They are nurses, aides, housekeepers and cooks who come to work every day at a time when staying at home would be so much safer. They put their personal health, and the health of their own families, at risk because this is their calling. It is something they do on a daily basis in normal times, but in this extraordinary moment, it is all the more admirable.
These caregivers grieve for every resident who has succumbed to this deadly virus, and they celebrate the hundreds of nursing home residents who are compassionately nursed back to health. They do so with great humility and without complaint. It’s who they are and what they do.
This is the story of a battle against COVID-19. An insidious virus that is targeting older adults. It is a formidable enemy, even in a state like Connecticut where we acted early on to keep the deadly virus out of the nursing home buildings and where we have followed all the medical and scientific guidance to control its spread.
So why is this battle so difficult? Let’s start with the facts about what the nursing homes are up against.
There are many reasons, documented by experts, why COVID-19 spreads so quickly within nursing homes. We now know that this insidious virus can be carried and spread by people who show no symptoms. And once it enters a building, it becomes very difficult to contain. Our best efforts to defend against its entry have been breached and the tools and guidance we have been given to contain it have continued to change, sometimes on a daily basis, as the medical experts learn more about the science and behavior of the disease.
The challenges are not from a single source, nor are the solutions, but here are the facts:
- Nursing homes need personal protective equipment—including masks, gowns, and gloves— so we need to keep our caregivers safe. The providers, the government and the community have come together to deliver the needed equipment, but much more needs to be done.
- Nursing homes need access to critical testing tools that would help us identify and isolate staff and residents who have been exposed to the virus. Testing is becoming more widely available, but we are not there yet.
- Nursing homes need an assurance of adequate funding to actually cover the true cost of providing care and services in a time of pandemic. The rising cost of personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies and enhanced compensation are examples of the unanticipated and extraordinary costs. A strong partnership between the nursing homes and the government has emerged, but very likely more will be needed.
Now is the time to support nursing homes, to give them the resources they need to fight this battle against this virus and to recognize their important role in the health care system. And now is the time for clinicians across the health care system – in hospitals, nursing homes, and public health — to support each other and work in collaboration so that together we can tell the final story of triumph over this enemy, COVID-19.
Mag Morelli is President of LeadingAge Connecticut. Matt Barrett is President and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities.