Kathy Moore, left, talks to her sister-in-law Ann Marie Lagrange, of Windsor Locks, through the window at Manchester Manor Health Care Center. “I was heartbroken. I would come and see her three or four times a week, and I couldn’t see her,” said about the past. She’s now able to see her best friend Moore through a video call and the widow visit. “All my worries go away. I get to see her nurses come in and out, … I know she’s okay. I just feel we can communicate.” Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont, left, talks with Jeanne Peters, 95, a resident at The Reservoir nursing home in West Hartford, as Peters prepares to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. AP Photo

Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday he is directing another $31.2 million to the state’s nursing homes, which have become financially strapped as occupancy has plummeted during the pandemic and costs associated with staffing, protective gear and testing materials have risen.

Nursing home industry leaders had sought much more, however, asking the state in July to provide more than $300 million in additional aid. The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents 145 of the state’s 211 nursing homes, requested the funding to help maintain care levels in the face of eroding revenues.

“The additional support directed by Governor Lamont is welcome news to Connecticut’s nursing homes. This most recent relief package recognizes the unprecedented resources that nursing homes have been committing to prevent and defeat the virus,” Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, and Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Together with the newly launched vaccination effort, this additional financial assistance once more demonstrates the strong partnership between the long term care community and the administration to protect our nursing home residents.”

Barrett and Morelli did not address the disparity between industry leaders’ original request to the state and the amount announced Wednesday.

Lamont said the financial support is meant to ensure “continuity and quality of care,” prevent the spread of infectious disease and increase the likelihood that nursing homes will qualify for additional relief from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The $31.2 million – from Connecticut’s federal Coronavirus Relief Fund grant – will be sent to nursing homes, primarily in the form of increased Medicaid payments. Medicaid covers the cost of roughly 70 percent of all nursing home care provided in Connecticut.

The state also will delay plans to recover $23.4 million from the nursing home industry for an additional year to give facilities more financial flexibility in the short term. Connecticut granted its nursing home sector a series of Medicaid rate increases last spring to help deal with the impact of COVID-19. Some of those increases were based on state officials’ estimates of federal aid to come – and granted with the understanding Connecticut would reduce future payments to nursing homes if assistance from Washington fell below projections. The administration still plans to recover the $23.4 million but now will do so in the 2021-22 fiscal year.

“As we are dealing with a resurgence of the coronavirus statewide, we have taken action to mitigate a repeat of the first occurrence and reduce infections and spread in our nursing homes,” Lamont said in a statement. “To that end, we are providing increased payments and a deferral on the recoupment of interim payments to provide more financial security as the costs of combating the virus remain high and it is essential we give the facilities the resources they need.”

The Lamont administration already had channeled more than $150 million in federal and state dollars into nursing homes prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

About $60 million in increased Medicaid payments were awarded covering April through June as the pandemic was at its worst. And the administration also has provided $94 million to help cover testing costs. Nursing homes currently are required to test their staff on a weekly basis.

“This relief package affirms our shared commitment with the industry to continue to invest extensive technical guidance, advisory support and financial resources in preventing spread of COVID-19,” Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said.

The pandemic has caused financial hardship for many facilities that already were operating on narrow margins. A sharp drop in revenue from fewer people seeking rehabilitation and other post-acute care was a troubling setback, officials said. As COVID-19 cases rose last spring, some families pulled loved ones out of nursing homes or decided against putting them into one. And since the pandemic started, 3,406 nursing home residents have died – about 60% of the state’s coronavirus fatalities.

Over the summer, thousands of nursing home workers were laid off or had their hours drastically reduced as occupancy in the facilities plunged – to 72% in August, down from 88% in February as residents died of COVID-19 and the homes saw far fewer new admissions.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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