EAST HARTFORD, CT — Nursing homes like Riverside Health & Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford, which was hit hard by the coronavirus, have to worry about maintaining an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and testing supplies.
Karen Chadderton, the administrator at Riverside, said they go and get supplies once a week from the state and it’s like “Christmas,” because “you never really know what you’re getting.”
Sometimes you don’t get what you need, “but we’re always grateful for what we get,” Chadderton said.
Some of the PPE is also not medical grade. She said some is “not at the level that we would prefer,” but she said they find other ways to utilize it.
Chadderton said in the early days of the pandemic, they didn’t know if they would have enough PPE to sustain them so they followed new CDC protocols to conserve the PPE as much as possible.
She said they really struggled to get supplies then, but she added that she can honestly say her staff “never went without.”
There was an understanding among nursing homes that the state would stop supplying them in August, but Josh Geballe, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief operating officer, said that has not been decided yet.
“The state backstops is what we do,” Gov. Ned Lamont said at an unrelated event Wednesday.
He said it’s the nursing homes’ obligation “to be responsible for the PPE.”
Lamont said the state is trying to build up its stockpile again. It’s back down to 60 days’ worth and he wants to get it back up to 90.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the federal government has an obligation to provide these facilities with PPE and testing supplies.
Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act that would provide $20 billion of supplies like PPE to nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country.
“The federal government has a responsibility for senior care,” Blumenthal said.
He said they are still depending on a “very frail and failing supply chain. A lot of it coming from overseas.”
He said if that supply chain fails they are going to be in very bad shape.
Blumenthal said there should be a 9-11 type commission to review the government’s response to the pandemic “once we’re at a point where we can look back.”
Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said nursing homes have to continue to replenish their supply of PPE and the state and the federal government need to continue to help.
“We’ve learned how to fight this virus,” Morelli said. “We can test, we can cohort and we can protect. But to protect we need medical-grade PPE.”
At least 89 workers at Riverside tested positive for the virus and two died. There have been 61 patients at the facility whose deaths are related to COVID-19.
As of June 30, statewide there have been 2,743 nursing home deaths related to COVID-19 – that’s over 63.4% of all COVID deaths in the state.
Karen MacKenzie, one of the workers who tested positive, said she was asymptomatic.
Chadderton said most of the staff who tested positive were asymptomatic, which is part of the insidious nature of the virus.
It’s also why PPE and cohorting – which is the strategy of keeping people in separate groups – are so important for patient safety.
Early in the pandemic the global shortage of PPE forced states, hospitals, and nursing homes to compete against each other – and the federal government – in expensive bidding wars.
The last shipment of PPE the state received from the national stockpile arrived on March 28 and the first state orders of PPE were placed on March 22.
The state has already spent or plans to spend $157 million on PPE. Some of the orders have not arrived yet.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of story said the state distribution of PPE was ending in August.