With COVID-19 infections on the rise again in nursing homes, the state is opening a fourth recovery center to accommodate more COVID-positive residents.
The recovery centers are meant to alleviate stress on nursing homes by allowing residents infected with COVID-19 to be transferred there for care. The centers also accept COVID-positive patients who are discharged from hospitals and residents from assisted living facilities who have contracted the virus.
Torrington Health & Rehabilitation Center, a shuttered nursing home that was reopened this year with support from the state, will begin receiving sick residents during the first week of December. It had served as a recovery center during the first coronavirus surge last spring but recently closed as the need for that space dropped. The facility has 120 beds for COVID-positive residents, and officials said they will be available “incrementally” – 30 beds at a time, as needed.
The three other facilities are Westfield Care & Rehabilitation in Meriden, Quinnipiac Valley Center in Wallingford and Riverside Care & Rehabilitation in East Hartford. Quinnipiac and Riverside each have a wing devoted to COVID-positive residents from other nursing homes and hospitals. The entire facilities in Meriden and Torrington are dedicated to COVID-positive residents.
As of Monday, 16 of the 34 available beds were occupied at Quinnipiac and 39 of the 90 beds were filled at Riverside, state officials said. Meriden, which was open in the spring, closed over the summer because of low demand and reopened earlier this month, had 44 of its 60 beds filled as of Tuesday. The facility has another 30 beds it can bring online if needed.
Timothy Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems, the company managing the Meriden and Torrington facilities, said the Meriden facility is now considering opening the remaining 30 beds but must bring on additional staff.
State health officials said the average length of stay at the facilities is 10 to 15 days, though it can vary. The Meriden facility has an average of four to five new admissions per day, Brown said.
Coronavirus cases among nursing home residents and staff have swelled recently. Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 3, 113 new resident infections were recorded in nursing homes. From Nov. 4 to 10, the number of new cases jumped to 254. And from Nov. 11 to 17, the number of new cases increased to 306.
From the beginning of the pandemic through Nov. 17, the most recent data available, there have been a total of 9,867 resident cases. COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents reached 3,018.
The state has recorded 1,240 staff cases since June 17 (it did not track the numbers prior to that, but federal data show more than 3,400 nursing home employees in Connecticut have been infected with COVID-19 or were presumed to have the disease). Two hundred and sixty-two new staff cases were logged between Nov. 11 and 17 alone.
Dr. Vivian Leung, coordinator of the Healthcare Associated Infections Program at the Department of Public Health, said Tuesday that over the past week, there were 61 nursing homes with coronavirus cases among staff only; 17 with cases among residents only; and 44 cases among both staff and residents.
As the holiday weekend approaches, Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford and Long-term Care Ombudswoman Mairead Painter sent a letter urging families of nursing homes residents to take precautions.
Virtual visits via Skype or Zoom are considered “low risk,” they wrote, while visits at the nursing homes are deemed “low-to-medium risk” and taking a relative home for a celebration with immediate family is considered “medium-to-high risk.”
Bringing a loved one home for a gathering with people from multiple households, or doing so without following mask or social distancing guidelines, is deemed “very high risk” behavior.
Nursing home residents who leave their facilities during the holidays may be asked to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
“We understand the toll that isolation caused by visitation restrictions in long-term care communities has taken on our residents,” they wrote. “However, our state is currently experiencing higher community-based transmission levels of COVID-19 and this could increase the risk that in-person visitation poses to residents and staff.”
Health officials have said that every nursing home resident in the state will be tested for COVID-19 beginning on Dec. 1 out of an abundance of caution following the holiday weekend.