Nursing homes still on front lines of COVID-19 fight

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the June 4 edition Citizen’s News to include statistics on COVID-19 cases and related deaths in nursing homes released by the state after press time. 

By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

NAUGATUCK — As the state begins the gradual process of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes and their vulnerable populations remain hot spots for the coronavirus.

There are approximately 22,160 nursing home residents in Connecticut, according to the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living.

Data released by the state late last week attributed the deaths of 2,398 nursing homes residents to the coronavirus — 1,884 confirmed deaths and another 514 probable deaths — as of May 27. The state reported that there had been 8,322 laboratory-confirmed cases among nursing home residents as of May 27. At the time, nursing homes accounted for nearly 62% of the virus-related deaths in the state and about 20% of the laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The two nursing homes in Naugatuck have not been immune to the pandemic.

The state reported that as of May 27 there had been 104 cases, 19 confirmed deaths and two probable deaths at Beacon Brook Health Center, which has 126 beds and is owned by the Farmington-based Athena Health Care Systems. There had been 39 confirmed cases, five deaths and 1 probable death at Glendale Center, which has 120 beds and is owned by Genesis Healthcare, Inc. in Pennsylvania.

Tim Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems and Beacon Brook, said the facility cares for some of the area’s most vulnerable patients, including patients that have more than one chronic disease as well as risk factors.

Brown added the state’s figures are also cumulative of transferred residents from other nursing homes, hospital admissions and assisted living admissions, and are not Beacon Brook only-acquired COVID-19 cases.

“The Beacon Brook team is saving the lives of patients every day, and they are protecting our communities by doing all they can to limit the reach of the coronavirus, in fact, more than 43 patients in our center who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered thus far, with more expected in the coming days and weeks ahead,” Brown said.

Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Glendale Center, said all patients and staff at the facility were tested in May. He said 38 residents and 15 staff members tested positive at the time.

“I can assure you that we are working around the clock to keep our patients and residents healthy and as safe as possible,” Feifer said. “We are doing everything in our power — and everything medical experts know as of at this time — to protect our patients, residents and employees.”

Beacon Brook was one of about two dozen nursing homes statewide where state inspectors found problems with infection control, according to reports released in May.

According to the report, inspectors surveyed Beacon Brook on April 23 and found four residents were sitting very close to each other at a table in a hallway and nurse’s aides were feeding them breakfast. The residents needed to be fed or supervised while eating staff said, according to the report, but state guidelines say residents should be fed in their rooms. The dining room has been closed due to the outbreak, the report stated.

Inspectors also found five other residents sitting close to each other in a communal room, according to the report.

The report states all staff members were to be educated again on guidelines about communal areas.

Brown said the staff has made every effort to follow the evolving guidelines and recommendations from the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, under incredibly challenging circumstances.

“We are inspired by their professionalism and compassion,” he said.

Staff at Beacon Brook and Glendale Center have changed how they operate in order to limit the transmission of coronavirus as best as possible.

“We are conducting cleanings and infection control measures multiple times per day, with extra care on high-touch areas,” Brown said. “We are limiting the number of staff going into resident rooms to only direct care staff.”

Glendale Center is actively screening and taking temperatures of all staff before they enter the building, Feifer said.

The facilities have received assistance from the Naugatuck Valley Health District, as well.

Director of Health Jessica Stelmaszek said heath officials have remained in regular communication with the nursing homes to offer technical help, ensure the accuracy of reporting, review infection control safety measures and follow up on any concerns.

The Department of Public Health is only allowing in-person visits from loved ones when a resident is near death as part of the wider state effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but state officials were exploring the possibilities for allowing outdoor visits between nursing home residents and family members.

Brown said Beacon Brook already has a policy and procedure in place to provide for outside visits when the state allows them.

The nursing homes have been updating families through email and video conferencing, officials said. Staff has also connected residents with their families through online platforms like Zoom and FaceTime.

“Our employees are the true heroes during this pandemic. They are coming to work each and every day to care for their patients and residents despite the personal risk,” Feifer said. “We are truly humbled by their dedication and compassion during these difficult conditions.”

The Republican-American contributed to this report.