Two Connecticut nursing homes have been fined for failing to comply with the state’s requirement to test staff weekly.
Avery Nursing Home in Hartford and Hamden Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Hamden were each fined $1,140 for the lapse.
During an inspection of Hamden Rehabilitation on Aug. 12, officials reviewed records for staff and discovered 17 employees had not been tested for coronavirus despite working at least one shift between July 29 and Aug. 3. Another 22 employees had not been tested but worked shifts between Aug. 4 and Aug. 10.
An administrator told inspectors that it was difficult to enforce mandatory testing because, “although COVID-19 testing is offered to employees twice per week in the facility, many staff have not been available to come in on the assigned testing days,” according to the inspection report.
The administrator said the nursing home could not remove workers who failed to get tested because it would not have enough staff to care for the residents.
At Avery Nursing Home, inspectors found that dozens of staff members had not been tested and that management failed to communicate that testing was mandatory. Though signs were posted around the home urging staff to get tested, they did not say it was mandatory. An administrator told inspectors that some employees were on vacation and “he could not force other staff to come in and be tested.”
From July 23 to Aug. 15, 24 members of the nursing staff showed up for at least one shift without being tested. From July 23 to Aug. 11, 10 dietary employees worked at least one shift without being tested. Three additional workers – in therapy and housekeeping – weren’t tested but reported for shifts in July and August, according to the inspection report.
The director of nursing conceded that the facility did not have a policy in place to address staff testing. After the inspection, management notified all employees that the testing was mandatory.
“The state of Connecticut is serious about testing staff and residents at nursing homes regularly for COVID-19,” said Deidre Gifford, the acting public health commissioner. “COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our nursing home population, many of whom have serious underlying health conditions. Testing for the virus is critical to helping us see where disease is happening so we can respond quickly in the case of any outbreak.”
“We’ll continue to do those inspections to make sure that nursing homes are in compliance,” she said.
In June, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring nursing home staff to be tested on a weekly basis. He later amended the order to allow facilities to stop testing if they’ve been coronavirus-free for 14 days (weekly testing resumes if a positive case is found).
Gifford said Thursday that the administration was changing its strategy again to require 25% of a nursing home’s staff to be tested every week, meaning each worker would be tested at least once a month.
Since June, the state has been paying for the widespread testing of nursing home staff. State officials originally said they planned to end that financial support on Aug. 31, asking the nursing homes to pick up the expense. But nursing home leaders, who have dealt with revenue losses amid the pandemic, said they couldn’t absorb the cost (the state spent about $30 million on the testing from June to August).
The state has since pledged to extend its funding for staff testing through Oct. 31.
Matthew Barrett and Mag Morelli, the heads of the state’s two nursing home associations, issued a statement supporting the new testing requirement.
“The two nursing home associations … applaud the announcement of an expanded state testing program that will ensure continuous COVID-19 testing of nursing home staff,” they said. “We agree that all nursing home providers must strive to be in full compliance with this public health mandate.”
Visitation restrictions loosened
Lamont’s administration on Thursday also announced a new policy expanding visitations in nursing homes under certain conditions.
Indoor visitations have largely been banned since the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The visits have only been permitted in end-of-life situations. Many nursing homes began allowing outdoor, socially distanced gatherings this summer.
Gifford said Thursday that visits will now be allowed for nursing home residents whose condition has deteriorated as a result of social isolation. The deterioration could include weight loss, increased sleeping, confusion or agitation, decline in cognition or an increase in mental illness symptoms. A resident’s status must be certified by a doctor or nurse for the visit to occur, she said.
Under the new policy, all nursing homes will have to develop visitation rules that include infection control measures. The homes must also assess the psychological needs of residents and develop a visitation plan for each one.
Social distancing requirements will not be part of the indoor visits.
“Compassionate Care visits shall be permitted without regard for strict social distancing requirements, allowing the resident and the visitors to touch each other, provided the resident and the visitors wear all appropriate personal protection equipment throughout the visit,” the policy states.
Nursing homes must be coronavirus-free for 14 days to schedule the new indoor visits. If an outbreak occurs, gatherings will be suspended until there are no positive cases among staff and residents for two weeks. An outbreak is defined as at least one positive case of COVID-19.
“We know how important visitation is to families and residents,” Gifford said. “We are acutely aware of the many, many families and residents who want to be reunited. But we’re also very aware of what we saw in the spring with respect to COVID infections in nursing facilities. So we’re taking it step by step.”