Failed Inspections, Deaths, Spark Few Changes for Nursing Homes Facing COVID-19 in Connecticut

The second part in a series on nursing homes. Read part one here.

On May 12, Terry Bellucci decided to transfer her mom out of Apple Rehab Saybrook.

At that point Bellucci had heard the center had one positive case and was calling everyone from the receptionist to the Governor’s office trying to make sure her mother, the other residents and the staff could get tested.  

“They told me she couldn’t be tested because they only had enough for those who were symptomatic,” Bellucci said. “Even though she was in the most at-risk group, she couldn’t get a test at Apple.”

Bellucci’s son finally drove his grandmother to New Haven to be tested, and where — as a healthy 29-year-old — he was also tested.

Luckily, both were negative and Bellucci’s mother was accepted into another facility.

But of those residents still in the facility — at least the 10 residents who have not yet contracted COVID-19 — Bellucci said she worries there is nowhere they can turn.

According to a May 27 facility inspection completed by the state Department of Public Health, the Old Saybrook care facility failed to maintain sufficient staffing to supervise residents and prevent transmission of COVID-19 in the facility. The inspection report noted that Apple Rehab staff were not appropriately educated on precautions to prevent disease transmission or on the proper use of personal protective equipment, despite training conducted in March and April.

“My concern is that nobody is listening, it’s impossible to get a hold of anyone,” she said. “Is there a task force or something to help these people? The Governor needs to have a better plan in place for those discharging from the hospital.”

State of Connecticut mandated routine facility inspections which began April 10, testing for residents at the beginning of May and testing for staff by June 1.

Deficient and non-compliant facilities must submit a plan of correction, but can continue operating.

In the case of Aaron Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation in Chester, the facility has been cited three times since routine inspections began on April 10 and the facility has subsequently submitted three plans of correction.

That facility, like Apple Rehab Saybrook, was cited multiple times for failing to “ensure effective infection prevention and control strategies including” regular cleanings and proper use of personal protective equipment, according to the report conducted on April 26.

Despite multiple citations during the pandemic, and repeated deficiencies in yearly inspections, an official at the Department of Public Health said that the agency will not be closing down any of the facilities.  

“We are looking for improvement and engagement from our nursing homes. These are things that need to be corrected and worked on, but the goal is not to be punitive. Instead, the goal is to bring them into compliance,” said Av Harris, director of government relations and communications for the Department of Public Health. “Theoretically we could go to shutting a place down, but we are not there with any of the facilities. Again the goal is to help them.” 

Currently 162 of the state’s 213 nursing homes have been certified by the Department of Public Health to accept COVID-19 positive patients directly from hospitals.

According to Dr. Tom Balcezak, the chief medical officer at Yale-New Haven Health, patients from Yale-New Haven are preferentially discharged to nursing homes instead of the five recovery facilities established in the state.

“So every patient has a number of factors that determine if they need a skilled nursing facility, where they go, and it depends on where they come from, did they come from a skilled nursing facility, does that skilled nursing facility that they came from accept COVID patients back?” he said. “If the patient comes from one of those … nursing homes and there’s capacity for them to go back, they can go back there.”

Patients are only discharged to the recovery centers, Balcezak said, if a nursing home is not available to receive them, meaning that most recovery centers never reached capacity.

For at-risk individuals like Bellucci’s mother who requires nursing and physical therapy care, the threat of COVID-19 is far from over.

“I worry about what we are going to do if her new facility has an outbreak,” Bellucci said. “How do we find one that won’t accept any COVID patients?”

For families like Belluccis, Harris said, the department understands that it is a frightening time.

“We would tell them that we are extremely concerned for the safety of their relatives and we are doing everything we can to make sure they are being cared for — whether that is helping them improve if they have COVID, or keeping them healthy,” Harris said. “We are enforcing the standards that are set at the federal and state level and doing everything we can to get in there and see what’s going on and hold people accountable when we need to.”

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