Test Delays Raise Questions — Spur Efforts to Reduce Wait — for COVID-19 Diagnoses

Whether to go to work, to travel out-of-state, be admitted to a hospital or for some just to visit friends and family, many individuals across Connecticut are required to take a diagnostic test for COVID-19. The test, which is now widely available and reimbursed by insurance companies, indicates whether an individual is carrying the virus at the time of the procedure. But with the results taking on average a week to arrive, they may already be overtaken by new infection and no longer accurate. “Demand for our molecular diagnostic testing remains high as the virus has spread across much of

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UPDATED: Connecticut Legislature Approves Compromise Measure on Distance Medicine

UPDATE: The Connecticut Senate unanimously gave its approval to the telehealth bill by a vote of 35-0 on Tuesday afternoon. No senators raised any amendments on the bill before voting to approve it.  Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, did not vote on the bill. There was no debate in the Connecticut House of Representatives about the need to set temporary telehealth rules as members voted unanimously Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for its approval. Before passing the bill, legislators also approved by voice vote an amendment that would give the Commissioner of Public Health emergency powers until March 15 to

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UPDATED: Advocates Push Connecticut Legislators for Price Caps on Insulin and Cost-Savings for the Uninsured

UPDATE: On Thursday evening, the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation, by a vote of 142 to 4, that will cap the monthly cost of insulin, supplies and emergency insulin for people with insurance. According to State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, beginning January 1, 2022, the maximum monthly cost for insulin will be $25, for non-insulin medication $25 and for devices and equipment $100. In addition, once each year anyone with diabetes will be eligible for a 30-day emergency supply of insulin at any pharmacy in the state. “This bill is an investment in saving lives, in saving health and in

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Payment Parity, Regulation of Telemedicine, Debated by Lawmakers and Industry Representatives

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate heard from medical practitioners and a representative of the private insurance industry concerned a proposed bill, to be considered this week during the legislative special session, to set a framework for telemedicine until next June. The draft bill would address concerns voiced to lawmakers by healthcare providers as they have adapted to telehealth services to slow the spread of COVID-19. The bill would authorize healthcare providers to meet with patients using any video or audio platform compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress

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Audit Shows Limited Oversight of Prescribers of Controlled Substances Across Connecticut

An audit report of the Department of Consumer Protection drug monitoring program released on Thursday found that state officials cannot ensure that prescribers of controlled substances have registered or are using the program as the law requires. According to the report, the Department of Consumer Protection Division of Drug Enforcement, which oversees the prescription monitoring program, also can’t ensure that healthcare providers are looking up a patient’s history of being prescribed controlled substances, a step intended to help providers determine whether a patient is at a higher risk of abuse or misuse of medications. The division has recently started the

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Legislature Opts for Deliberation — Not Haste — in Tackling Nursing Home Reforms After Wave of COVID Deaths

With about 60 percent of 4,338 COVID-19-related deaths in Connecticut occurring in nursing homes, the need for reform in the industry and the potential for increasing penalties for health code violations have become commonplace talking points among state legislators. That said, the issues are not expected to be addressed by legislators in summer or fall special sessions. “Changing penalties is not at the level or urgency for the special sessions,” said State Sen. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chair of the Public Health Committee. “My job is to make sure we take our time and look at all the possibilities.” Steinberg said

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Fearing Health Insurance Rate Hikes in the Wake of COVID, Senate Democrats Propose Caps, Subsidies

The number of people seeking medical care for COVID-19-related reasons has sparked fears that Connecticut insurance companies, set to file their rates by the end of July, may raise 2021 premiums to astronomical levels. In response, members of the Connecticut State Senate are proposing measures that may offset or prevent some of these potential costs. In the “Juneteenth Agenda,” unveiled on June 19 of this year, the Senate Democrats offered a list of reforms in policing, education, housing, and healthcare, among other things. One of the proposals involves setting limits on premium hikes by insurers and provides state-level subsidies to

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Connecticut Providers and Insurers Debate the Future of Remote Medicine

Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision in March to mandate social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 forced medical providers to quickly expand telehealth coverage for appointments by video or phone. This expanded coverage is regulated by a temporary patchwork of major policy changes, including state and federal emergency mandates and voluntary measures by private insurers. On March 19, Lamont issued an executive order allowing providers for the first time to offer medical visits by telephone. And Medicaid and private insurers have moved to reimburse providers for virtual visits at the same rate as in-person visits.  At an Insurance and Real

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Connecticut Department of Public Health Rolls Back Mandate for Testing Nursing Home Staff

The Connecticut Department of Public Health is rolling back a June 1 executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont which mandated weekly testing of nursing home staff for COVID-19 for the duration of the public health emergency. The state agency has informed care facilities that they may forgo testing after two consecutive weeks without positive tests for nursing home staff and residents. “After two weeks of zero positives a facility can discontinue testing,” said Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of public health and commissioner of social services at an Appropriations Committee meeting on Friday. According to Gifford, the guidance comes from the

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As State Officials Commission Study of Nursing Homes, COVID-19 Infections Slow

In the last week, just 61 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Connecticut, evidencing a drop in the spread of the virus among the state’s hardest-hit population. Of those 61 cases, one was diagnosed at Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in Chester, where there have been 31 cases, six were at Essex Meadows Health Center, where there are now 16 cases and two were at Apple Rehab in Old Saybrook, where there are now 69 cases. Between mid-March and mid-June, at least 9,720 residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities

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COVID in Connecticut – By the Numbers

Yesterday, phase two of reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic began with Gov. Ned Lamont allowing hotels, indoor dining, nail salons, fitness facilities, amusement parks, museums, zoos and aquariums to open for business. Lamont attributed the slightly accelerated pace of successive phases to the continued decline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state despite increased socialization and travel since May 20. “We hit our peak on April 22 and are down about 90 percent since then,” said Lamont at a Tuesday press conference. “The positivity rate has stayed at or below 2 percent despite our increased testing with

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Bipartisan Women’s Caucus Rallies to Push Change After Thousands of Deaths at Connecticut Nursing Homes

HARTFORD — In response to the deaths of roughly 2,500 nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut state legislature’s bipartisan Women’s Caucus is calling for change in the industry, at the state Department of Public Health and from the Office of the Governor in an effort to prevent a second wave from devastating this population again. Although Governor Ned Lamont released a request for proposals for an independent contractor to complete a review of procedures to address the COVID-19 pandemic inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities last week, the caucus is requesting that the review encompass much

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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

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Nursing Home Deaths in Old Saybrook Point to Deeper Policy and Care Concerns Across Connecticut

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OLD SAYBROOK — Over the last three weeks, 69 residents have tested positive and 19 have died from COVID-19 at Apple Rehab, a 120-bed care facility. That’s 74 percent of the total cases and 95 percent of the deaths in Old Saybrook as of June 9, according to the Connecticut River Area Health District.  Although the results of a recent inspection, part of the state’s effort to inspect all nursing homes for deficiencies in health and safety standards during the COVID epidemic, are still pending, the facility has been cited and fined a number of times in the past. In

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Eastern Connecticut State University Launches Data Analytics Project to Localize and Inform Policy on Disease Outbreaks

Eastern Connecticut State University launched a project to better inform policymakers and the public about the impacts of COVID-19, and policies to slow its spread, on Connecticut specifically. The project, called the Eastern Institute of Data Analytics, will provide modeling and analysis on the current pandemic, as well as future outbreaks of disease. “Our goal is to provide information to the general public and to provide policymakers with analyses and insights that may shape decision making in the state,” said Yaw Nsiah, the department chair of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University. “While a lot of national health and

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Workers’ Compensation a Point of Contention for Essential Workers Facing Lengthy Recoveries from COVID-19

For years Denise Rodgers has driven the Yale-New Haven Health shuttle. She transports doctors, nurses and other health professionals from parking lots across south-central Connecticut to the York Street and St. Raphael hospitals. On March 17, before anyone was wearing a mask on her bus, as the health system was just identifying the first evidence of the pandemic in Connecticut, Rodgers and her husband fell sick. Both spent several weeks in Yale’s intensive care unit and after 48 days on a ventilator, after Rodgers had already been discharged, her husband died. According to Sal Luciano, President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO

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Doctors Urge the Public to Seek Help for Cancer Screenings as Sharp Decline in Care Means Thousands of Untreated Cases

In March and April just 97 cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed throughout Hartford Healthcare compared with 233 cases in 2019. The stark decline holds true for digestive cancers with a 42 percent decline in diagnoses and breast cancer with a 30 percent decline in diagnoses compared to the same period in 2019. “If you don’t diagnose, you can’t treat,” said Dr. Peter Yu, physician in chief at Hartford Healthcare’s Cancer Institute. “We are going to diagnose these cases, but they will be much harder to treat when we do.” The concern is that a two to three month delay

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Restaurants and Town Officials Scramble to Open Outdoor Dining Across Southeast Connecticut

Municipal officials in the region have scrambled to process applications for expanded outdoor dining so that restaurants could open outdoors on May 20 in accordance with Gov. Lamont’s 7mm order on May 12. “We have about 20 applications for temporary outdoor dining permits and we’re expecting the number to increase,” said Christina M. Costa, a zoning official for the Town of Old Saybrook, on May 21. “The applications are coming in fast.”  The executive order delegates temporary outdoor dining permit approvals to municipal staff until the state of emergency is lifted. The permits allow restaurants to “provide outdoor dining space

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“The biggest hurdle is going to be the consumer,” says Lamont in Interview with CT Examiner

As the state begins phase one today of reopening the economy, in an interview with CT Examiner, Governor Ned Lamont said that he expects the return of consumers to be slow and making a profit to be a challenge for businesses across the state. “The biggest hurdle is going to be the consumer, but it’s a good thing that the consumer is cautious. I don’t want Wednesday to look like the end of prohibition,” said Lamont on Tuesday. “I think it is going to be tough, but you have to start somewhere, don’t you? People will build their confidence.” Over

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In Press Conference, Lamont Says Testing on Track for Phase One Reopening

Last week the state of Connecticut tested 29,000 individuals for COVID-19 and is expecting to surpass a benchmark next week of 42,000 weekly tests, just in time for phase one of the state’s reopening. “Testing is a key metric and I think you’re going to see that we are getting there,” said Governor Ned Lamont at Tuesday’s press conference. “We are going to hit 42,000 tests a week by next week and well over 100,000 a week by June.” With testing in place and more than 20 consecutive days of declining hospitalizations statewide, Lamont assured residents that Connecticut is not

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New London Seeks to Ease Reopening for Restaurants Beginning May 20

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NEW LONDON — On May 20, for the first time in more than two months, restaurants in Connecticut will – most likely – be allowed to begin extend service to customers beyond takeout and delivery According to Governor Ned Lamont, the first phase of the reopening efforts will allow restaurants to serve patrons  in outdoor, socially-distanced seating.  How many restaurants have the space — or be able to turn a profit — has yet to be seen. “We want to work with the individual restaurants depending on your needs. Some of you already have areas for outdoor dining, but if

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Despite Setting a High Bar, Mounting $934 Million and $2.2 Billion Deficits Spur Announced Four-phase Reopening for Connecticut

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Governor Ned Lamont announced a four-phase reopening plan beginning May 20 in hopes of capturing increased sales and income tax revenues as the state faces a $934 million deficit in fiscal year 2020 and a projected $2.2 billion deficit in fiscal year 2021 caused by efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. “The numbers are sobering,” Lamont said, leading off a Friday morning press conference. “COVID has been tough on our physical health, mental health and fiscal health. The state was on track and doing well on budget until a couple months ago.” In addition to significant declines in personal

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As State Government Steps Back from EEE Prevention, the Connecticut River Area Health District Steps Up

In an effort to reduce the chance of a second, more severe outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis this summer, the Connecticut River Area Health District — serving Clinton, Old Saybrook, Deep River, Haddam and Chester — will hire a private contractor to treat all the storm drains in their region with larvicide. “Beyond our customary outreach campaigns, we are going to expand our efforts. CRAHD will be hiring a private contractor to treat with larvicide all catch basins … I am hopeful that these measures will be used in neighboring communities,” said health district Director Scott Martinson. “The bottom line

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Town Leaders Along the Shoreline Mull Beach Closures as Summer Approaches

With sunny days and temperatures in the 60s forecast for this weekend, towns around the region are facing decisions on whether to keep their beachfront parks open against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. “We are struggling with what to do with our beaches,” East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson told his town’s Board of Education at a Thursday night Zoom meeting. “We’ll figure out something in the next couple of days. We’re going to see how the weekend goes. Beaches around us from both sides — Waterford and Old Lyme — have closed. The state’s [beaches and parks] are

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As State Officials Set High Goals for Testing Before Rolling Back Restrictions, Hospitals Face a Backlog Non-COVID Care

The Office of Governor Ned Lamont expects testing for COVID-19 in Connecticut to reach a minimum threshold of 30,000 tests administered daily statewide before lifting any restrictions on businesses, hospitals or social gatherings intended to slow the spread of the virus. A longer-term goal for Connecticut of 50,000 daily tests has been set by neighboring New York State. To date, seven weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, Yale New Haven Health has performed a total of just 30,000 tests. “The key to coming out of our stay at home orders depends on having reliable, accessible testing available to all of us.

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Yale New Haven Reassures Expecting Mothers and Families on Coronavirus Protocols

Expecting a new baby of course comes with countless questions and concerns and demands making innumerable decisions. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic in near full swing, for many parents those same questions and fears are multiplied 10-fold. “For eight weeks we’ve been creating a service that will meet your needs and expectations. We want your experience to be as close to what you envisioned as possible,” said Dr. Christian Pettker, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine at a live-webinar hosted Thursday night for all expecting families in Yale New Haven Hospital’s

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Testing Key for Task Force Advising Lamont, “Small Steps” Beginning in June Continuing until the New Year

State officials say that a massive expansion of testing capability in Connecticut will be needed before lifting restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but Governor Ned Lamont today announced the first steps toward reopening the state, including an advisory group to develop a strategic plan by May 20. “The most important objective or goal for this initial step when we think about reopening Connecticut is really increasing the capacity of testing for COVID-19,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health and co-chair of the new advisory group.  Ko explained that

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State and Federal Agencies Scramble to Ease Hurdles for Families Seeking Food Aid in Connecticut

In April, the Connecticut Department of Social Services administered nearly $31 million of additional supplemental nutrition assistance funds to residents across Connecticut. Instead of one check on the first of the month, almost 108,000 families received three checks — on April 1, 9 and 20 — to help cover their food costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the week of April 10, DSS issued just under $16 million in emergency SNAP benefits to 107,826 households that did not receive the maximum allotment for their household size in the month of March,” said David Dearborn, the spokesperson for the Department of

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