Courtesy of the Department of Public Health

HARTFORD, CT — Over the weekend Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order establishing COVID-19 recovery centers in two nursing homes in Sharon and Bridgeport.

The two nursing homes run by Athena Health Care Systems are Sharon Health Care Center and Northbridge Healthcare Center.

Tim Brown, a spokesman for Athena Health Care Systems, said at least one floor in each building has been dedicated to COVID-19 positive patients. He said they’ve begun to transferred COVID-19 negative patients out of those homes to make more room for patients being discharged from hospitals.

Brown said they will also be opening two more recovery centers at Torrington Health and Rehabilitation Center and a building in Meriden that used to be called Westfield Healthcare. Brown said they are looking to get those two facilities staffed and up and running by the end of the week.

“These centers can provide nearly 500 beds of post-acute care, providing much needed support to our state’s acute care hospitals during the impending surge,” Larry Santilli, president and CEO of Athena Health Care Systems, said.

The state anticipated getting these facilities up and running more than a week ago, but they ran into several snags including backlash from the community following a previously released list of nursing homes that would serve as recovery facilities for COVID-19 positive residents.

“People who live in nursing homes are among the most vulnerable, and this plan is needed in order to protect those who are negative for the virus while providing adequate areas of recovery for those who have tested positive and can be discharged from hospitals,” Lamont said. “We are grateful for the nursing homes that are partnering with us in this critical effort – their staff is providing an invaluable service to the people of our state and we cannot thank them enough.”

The Connecticut Department of Social Services and the Office of Policy and Management have determined a specific payment rate of $600 per day for the COVID-19 recovery centers, and additional payments of 10 percent across the board for all nursing homes in Connecticut during the course of the pandemic.

As of Sunday, 49% of Connecticut’s nursing homes have one or more patients with COVID-19.

Since March 15 when the state started tracking nursing home cases a total of 1,362 nursing home residents have tested positive and 352 (26%) were hospitalized and 195 (14%) have died.

The new fear is that the Athena Health Care System facilities will fill up more quickly than anticipated and create the need for more of these facilities. Already finding staff to work at these facilities has proved challenging.

Many nursing home workers work second or third jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

While Lamont restricted visitor access to nursing homes on March 12 it didn’t stop staff from continuing to work at multiple homes.

An official with the Department of Public Health said there is no regulatory requirement that staff cannot work in different homes but it is strongly suggested that staff not travel from nursing home to nursing home to prevent the spread of infection during this COVID-19 pandemic. Guidance from the CDC notes that health care personnel who work in multiple locations may pose higher risk and should be asked about exposure to facilities with recognized COVID-19 cases.

As far as the reporting of the number of cases in each nursing home the state expects to be releasing more comprehensive data this week.

For patients not associated with nursing homes the state also announced that they will use the Connecticut Convention Center as a recovery facility to help boost capacity in anticipation of a surge.

On Saturday Connecticut began converting the Connecticut Convention Center into a recovery center with the assistance of the Connecticut National Guard. This facility will be licensed for operation and staffed by Hartford Healthcare. The recovery center will house up to 600 patients as they receive recovery care following COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment.

The Connecticut Convention Center is the third recovery center to be stood up by the state during this pandemic, with the other two locations being at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.