HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 5 p.m.) Connecticut’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman wrote a letter to nursing home residents and family members Monday to inform them that patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be moved to designated nursing homes.
Mairead Painter said they are working to get these nursing homes up and running to protect the patients who have not been infected by limiting the spread of the virus.
“Providing this physical distance is an attempt to concentrate the care and service needed to provide the highest level of care for each group of residents,” Painter said in a letter to residents and families.
While planning the details of exactly how these transfers would happen is ongoing, Painter said residents who have tested COVID-19 positive will be transferred to a nursing home that has been designated as a COVID-19 positive home. If a nursing home has been designated as a COVID-19 positive home, residents who are negative or without symptoms will need to be relocated to a home that has been designated as a COVID-19 negative nursing home.
Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, said the nursing homes that would be designated COVID-19 positive homes are waiting for the Department of Social Services to approve the rates and locations to move patients. Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford Springs, where three patients have died and several more have tested positive, has agreed to become a location for COVID-19 positive patients. The other locations have yet to be disclosed.
Painter said they are trying to figure out where these homes should be located so they are not moving people too far away from their original homes. The goal is to eventually move these patients back to their original homes, just like they would if they had to go to the hospital.
“Any move will be overwhelmingly upsetting and disturbing,” Painter said. “However, this is the best way to help keep your loved one safe.”
She said the alternative — keeping the COVID-19 positive patients in these homes — puts the other residents at risk.
There are at least 30 nursing homes with at least one patient who have tested positive for COVID-19. There are 85 total nursing home patients who tested positive and 11 have died, according to state officials. There are 216 nursing homes in Connecticut.
The vulnerable elderly population who are infected will likely be moved from their nursing homes and placed in a previously shuttered nursing home or an unused wing of a nursing home with other patients who also have the virus, according to Gov. Ned Lamont.
Lamont has said repeatedly that he wants to prevent a situation similar to Kirkland, Washington, where 37 people died at one nursing home.
“They can be petri dishes in terms of transmission of the virus,” Lamont said. “We were very careful, very early on. No visitation there.”
The Department of Public Health does not report the number of COVID-19 positive patients in nursing homes.
Painter said it would be a difficult number to track since some patients end up at hospitals, which is where they would eventually be counted.
However, Painter said she is trying to get more virtual access to nursing homes for family members and loved ones.
She said there’s been some pushback recently against the window visits that have made headlines, but there are some homes no longer allowing window visits or any kind of access adjusted to the circumstances.
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said she and her husband have been visiting her father-in-law through window visits for the past month. They call the home and a nurse would answer the phone and hand it to her father-in-law. They could see one another as they spoke.
Before that, Cook said they were going to the home two or three times per day helping to care for him. She said she knows nursing homes are short-staffed and overworked, but they have to figure out a way for loved ones to communicate with their family.
Video conference calls where a person can see someone’s face matter a great deal. “[E]specially for dementia patients, this is really important,” Painter said.
Cook said depression happens really fast and many of these patients don’t understand why they can’t have visitors.
“‘Are they not loved anymore? Why are they not seeing me?’ These are just some of the things they must be thinking,” Cook said.
Cook’s 90-year-old father-in-law was moved to the hospital on Sunday and is in the ICU awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. Cook said there were no COVID-19 positive cases at her father-in-law’s nursing home.
Painter said the ICU hospital rooms are small, and with no access to family members there are some patients who are in tears for extended periods of time.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health said virtual visits are encouraged but not required.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services is also encouraging nursing homes to facilitate increased virtual communication between residents and families.
Painter thinks the state can do more. In the meantime, she is looking for donations of tablets to the homes which don’t have them.
Anyone who is looking to donate is asked to call 1-866-388-1888.