Officials with the state Department of Public Health have handed out $28,200 in fines across six nursing homes where violations were found during inspections in April and May.
The violations range from the recycling of single-use personal protective gear to staff members who were seen not wearing masks.
The nursing homes that received financial penalties so far are RegalCare at Southport, Bethel Health Care Center, Whispering Pines Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in East Haven, Regency House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Wallingford, Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and Essex Meadows.
“We’re doing our part to hold them accountable,” Av Harris, a spokesman for the health department, said. “We also want to work with them to make sure that these violations don’t happen again, and that the health care quality and safety for the residents and for the staff is improved.”
Public Health workers and members of the Connecticut National Guard have been surveying nursing homes and assisted living facilities, both especially hard-hit by the pandemic, across the state 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 state inspectors would be visiting every facility to conduct “infection control surveys.”
Harris estimated that inspectors had completed about 1,000 unannounced visits across Connecticut’s 213 nursing homes during the pandemic, focused mainly on infection control and prevention.
While deficiencies have been recorded at dozens of homes, only six have been fined so far, according to state records. The penalties are: $10,000 at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation; $6,960 at Regency House; $5,000 at Whispering Pines; $2,520 at Bethel Health; and $720 at Essex Meadows. RegalCare at Southport was fined twice for violations in May, once for $2,000 and once for $1,000.
At Windsor Health, inspectors in late May noted that during a tour of a unit designated for COVID-19-negative residents, four of the 16 residents there were receiving specialized treatment that could have led to exposure to the virus. Residents who were sent out of the home for dialysis treatment could have been exposed to the disease before returning to the unit, they wrote.
Additionally, a nurse was seen handling soiled linens without proper protective gear. An administrator said that because the unit was designated for COVID-19-negative residents, staff didn’t have to wear protective gear aside from a mask and gloves. Another supervisor said she had emailed a medical director to inquire about precautions, but received no response.
Following the inspection, the facility began using the proper protective gear and posting signs with precautionary information. Windsor Health has appealed the violation.
Lara Alatise, owner and administrator of the facility, said there was no clear guidance at the time of how to handle residents leaving the home for medical treatment.
“We’ve appealed that because there was no clear guidance, and since then we followed the guidance that DPH has put in place,” she said.
During a May visit to Regency House, inspectors wrote that a resident had fallen out of bed and fractured both legs. Officials at the home did not respond to a request for comment.
Inspectors twice cited RegalCare for violations in May. During the first visit, they noted that a large number of Tyvek coveralls were being washed and reused, even though the garments were considered single-use. Someone emailed the state public health department with photos of the reused coveralls in the laundry room.
During the second visit, staff members told inspectors they were having difficulty getting masks, face shields and other protective gear. One worker said management gave her a brown paper bag to use, but she threw it away and brought a mask from home instead.
A manager at RegalCare said the home has appealed the findings.
“RegalCare at Southport has always maintained sufficient PPE,” said Christopher Massaro, an administrator. “The staff knows how and when to use the appropriate PPE. “RegalCare has contested the violations and accompanying fines. We have initiated the appeal process.”
At Whispering Pines, inspectors found in April that residents showing symptoms of COVID-19 were commingled with others who displayed no symptoms. A plan was later implemented to separate COVID-19-positive residents from those showing no symptoms.
Officials said they are appealing the violations and fine.
“Caring as they do for the most vulnerable in society, nursing homes were early victims of the coronavirus at a time when the state, the country and the world were struggling with the pandemic, and when guidance from experts was reactive and quickly changing,” said Amber Melville-Brown, an attorney for the facility. “Whispering Pines followed all proper protocols and guidance from both the CT Health Department and the CDC best to protect its residents and staff.”
Inspectors found two staff members at Bethel House folding clean towels without wearing masks. Another employee was wearing a mask improperly. The inspectors also noted that a resident who had recovered from coronavirus was left in an area with sick residents for seven days after his symptoms resolved.
And at Essex Meadows, inspectors wrote that a nurse was not wearing a mask and not social distancing when socializing with colleagues. The nurse said she had removed the mask to drink coffee and it had “just been for a minute.”
Administrators at Essex Meadows and Bethel House could not be reached.
Nursing home deaths continue to mount
Data released Thursday show that 173 of Connecticut’s 213 nursing homes have completed testing on all residents. Of the 11,070 residents tested so far, 1,465, or about 13%, have tested positive for coronavirus.
About 90% of those who tested positive, or 1,322 residents, were asymptomatic at the time. Advocates have said the state should have moved sooner to implement broad testing, since the tests help identify the asymptomatic carriers and allow nursing homes to properly separate residents and prevent spread.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration began the widespread testing in May and mandated in June that staff members be tested as well. The state has not yet released data on the number of employees tested so far, or the outcomes.
As of Wednesday, 2,648 nursing home residents had died from COVID-19 or were presumed to have had the virus when they died. That’s an increase of 4% in nursing home deaths over the previous week. The state has recorded 8,669 cases of the disease among residents.
Nursing home fatalities represent 64% of the state’s total coronavirus deaths.
The state reported additional 12 deaths in assisted living centers as of Tuesday, an increase of 3.6% over the previous week. The facilities have recorded a total of 349 deaths and 1,051 cases of COVID-19.