Inspectors surveying nursing homes have so far released findings that show one out of every eight facilities in Connecticut had infection control problems weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reports released Wednesday. More are expected to follow.
At the 26 nursing homes where problems have been disclosed, 313 elderly and disabled residents with the virus have died and more than 1,100 residents have been infected.
Reports on problems in some of the state’s 187 other nursing homes are expected to be released soon, said Av Harris, spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.
The documents released Wednesday show violations and plans of correction. Information about fines has not yet been disclosed. The findings were made public amid mounting scrutiny of the facilities. About 60% of the state’s coronavirus-related fatalities have been among nursing home residents.
At Country Side Manor in Bristol, where 62 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 21 residents have died, inspectors saw a person with coronavirus being transported without a face mask through a wing that was designated for non-infected residents. In response to the findings, the nursing home informed staff and their vendors that residents who leave their room must wear a face mask.
Timothy Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems, which owns 24 nursing homes in Connecticut including Country Side Manor, said the facility has passed two out of its three inspections.
“There is no greater priority for Athena Health Care Systems than the health and safety of our residents and staff,” he said. “Our staff have made every effort to follow the evolving guidelines and recommendations.”
At Abbott Terrace Health Center in Waterbury – one of the hardest hit nursing homes with 41 deaths – inspectors found during an unannounced April visit that three wheelchair-bound residents were sitting within six inches of each other near a nurses’ station. The residents were not wearing face masks.
When questioned, a staff member said the residents did not need to spread out or put on masks because they had all tested negative for COVID-19. Upon further investigation, the inspectors learned that two of them had tested positive for the virus.
Staff members were “unable to explain why the residents were not donning masks nor why they were not placed six feet apart,” they wrote in their report. “The facility did not provide a resident mask or social distancing policy.”
Brown, whose company also owns Abbott Terrace, noted that Abbott had also been visited on April 9 and May 8 with no violations reported. The deficiencies were recorded during an April 29 inspection.
“It certainly can be challenging to work with an elderly population that may have cognitive disorders and get them to adhere to social distancing and wearing a mask,” he said. “We continue to work with staff on addressing these types of issues as they arise and continue to work on staff education.”
At Madison House – where 13 residents with COVID-19 have died and 44 residents have been infected – a staff member caring for an elderly resident put a contaminated face shield on a cart filled with protective equipment. Facility leaders have promised to conduct audits to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Inspectors also faulted the Evergreen Health Care Facility in Stafford Springs for failing to ensure that proper infection control practices were followed. A member of the housekeeping staff was seen removing soiled linen bags from a cart and placing them in a large bucket without wearing protective gear. The bags touched the employee’s chest as she lifted them.
Evergreen officials said the worker was advised on the proper use of protective gear. “There have been no further instances of laundry staff collecting soiled laundry without the correct PPE on,” they said.
Public Health workers and members of the Connecticut National Guard have been surveying nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Connecticut over the last two months.
The federal government ordered states on March 20 to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to select nursing homes for inspections. On April 19, Gov. Ned Lamont announced the state would be visiting every nursing home to conduct “infection control surveys.”
Matthew Barrett and Mag Morelli, leaders of the state’s two major nursing home associations, on Wednesday praised the facilities’ response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We believe Connecticut nursing homes are performing at an extraordinary level given the challenges of fighting this insidious virus while faced with changing guidance, an inadequate PPE supply chain and a statewide testing initiative that has only recently begun,” they said in a joint statement. “While we would prefer that these focused inspections did not result in any findings, we absolutely welcome the department’s oversight.”