An independent study of Connecticut’s response to COVID-19 at nursing homes found the state should have worked more closely with long-term care facilities in the early days of the pandemic to prevent widespread infection and loss of life.

The final, 157-page report from the Princeton, New Jersey-based firm, Mathematica Policy Research, comes amidst new outbreaks at three nursing homes in southeastern Connecticut. Gov. Ned Lamont commissioned the study in June to examine Connecticut’s response to COVID-19 in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where more than 3,300 people have died from the virus.

The new report was critical of the state’s early response to the virus, which it said focused more heavily on ensuring adequate capacity at hospitals and neglected nursing homes in the process.

“Early planning and response efforts focused on hospital capacity, with nursing homes viewed primarily as a backstop to alleviate high demand for acute care beds. Ongoing emergency planning and response efforts should include representatives of the [long term care] industry, including [home and community based service] providers, and LTC residents and family members to address their unique needs,” the authors wrote.

During a Thursday press briefing, Lamont acknowledged the state focused heavily on hospitals early in the pandemic but said nursing homes were not ignored.

“Just given the nature of the spread, what we saw going on in Italy and other places where hospitals were being overwhelmed,” he said. The state “worked hand-and-glove with the hospitals to make sure we had a coordinated response but I don’t think that was at the expense of the nursing homes.”

The state moved quickly to shut down visitation at nursing homes and establish “COVID-only” wings to segregate infected nursing home residents from the rest of the facility, Lamont said.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre S. Gifford said the report reflects that the state was working to suppress a virus it was still learning about.

“Connecticut, along with the rest of the country, was learning about the virus as the pandemic was happening so we took steps as we learned that they needed to be taken,” she said.

The report made recommendations to improve nursing home policy including increasing the full-time staff at nursing homes to limit the number of staff members working at different facilities. The report also recommends increasing the availability of PPE for long term care facilities.

In all, the report makes __ recommendations for the state moving forward; Gifford said almost all of them have been addressed.

Gifford said the state continues to encounter supply chain constraints with N95 masks. She said her department has been working with nursing homes to bolster their PPE stockpiles.

Lamont said the report validated some of the steps the state had already begun taking to reduce spread of the virus at nursing homes. 

“Look, we’re already doing a lot of the recommendations that Mathematica said just getting ready for what could happen for October or November if we did have a second flu season,” Lamont said. “We’ve already been testing on a frequent basis—at least monthly. We’re doing it at no charge to the nursing homes. If there’s an infection, we’ll be testing weekly or even more often.”

In a joint statement, the state’s two largest nursing home providers associations said they were reviewing the report, but they praised Lamont for continuing to support the testing of nursing home staff and residents through the end of the year rather than the end of October.

“No one serving Connecticut’s older adults can rest easy or let down their guard while the pandemic continues to have a grip in our state,” said Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and Connecticut Center for Assisted Living and Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut.

The report comes as the state has taken steps to contain recent outbreaks of the virus at nursing homes and Norwich and Colchester. Lamont said those outbreaks reflect the high rate of infection currently present in the Norwich area. A Groton nursing home reported four cases the week before.

DPH issued a COVID-19 alert for Norwich Thursday evening citing 84 new cases between Sept. 13-16. Norwich schools have moved to all-remote learning as the city moves forward with aggressive mitigation strategies.