There have been 35 deaths from COVID-19 at Kimberly Hall North nursing home in Windsor, nearly four times the state’s official number for the facility, as the coronavirus continues to decimate elderly residents of Connecticut’s long-term care facilities.
“There’s truly a devastating number of deaths and cases,” said Dr. Richard Feifer, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Genesis HealthCare. “At Kimberly Hall North we’ve lost 35 of our residents and our heart goes out to their families and to the caretakers who are torn apart by the devastation that has taken hold.”
The number of deaths at Kimberly Hall has raised new questions about reporting of deaths due to COVID-19 in the state’s 215 nursing homes.
When the state Department of Public Health put out numbers for each of the state’s nursing homes last Thursday, Kimberly Hall North had a total of 9 deaths and 17 positive cases. The state said that there had been 375 deaths in long-term care facilities, or about 40% of the state’s total deaths. Those numbers are expected to jump dramatically when new figures are released on Thursday.
Another facility that has been overwhelmed is Whispering Pines in East Haven, where sources said Tuesday there have now been 24 deaths, 10 more patients hospitalized and 22 more who have tested positive for COVID-19. As of last week, DPH had identified 14 deaths at Whispering Pines, which has less than 70 patients.
Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Lynn Sosa said that DPH has been reviewing death data provided by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, which has been examining deaths to see if new CDC guidelines on how to categorize COVID-19 deaths applied to nursing home fatalities.
The guidelines for “COVID-19 associated deaths” now include both persons who tested positive for the virus and others who were not tested but whose death certificate lists COVID-19 as a cause of death or condition contributing to death.
The medical examiner sends death data to DPH every day and the department is now updating its death numbers based on that, raising the number of deaths now attributed to COVID-19.
“In the past couple of weeks we have tried to do our due diligence and get those cases into our database,” Sosa said.
At his afternoon press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont confirmed that 35 residents of Kimberly Hall had perished. He pledged that in the future the state would make sure families “are not left in the dark” about what is happening to their loved ones. He said the addition of mobile testing labs will mean more nursing home residents will be tested.
“The nursing homes have been a tragedy across the country. Nobody has solved this yet. I’m really hoping that with this mobile testing we will be able to get to these nursing homes,” Lamont said.
Over the weekend, Lamont ordered DPH officials to visit all 215 nursing homes in the state and review their procedures and needs. There have been widespread complaints by nursing home workers that they don’t have enough personal protection equipment and are wearing garbage bags as gowns and homemade masks to protect themselves.
Lamont also announced the state was going to give another $30 million to nursing home providers to help cover the costs of fighting the virus. It is supposed to be earmarked for increased pay for workers, purchasing PPE and improved cleaning efforts.
The state also has opened several coronavirus recovery facilities across the state, where COVID-19 patients who are now hospitalized would go to recover before going back to their original facility. More than 40 patients have been admitted to the facility in Sharon. Others are supposed to open in Torrington and Meriden soon.
Feifer said he doesn’t have any answers as to why Kimberly Hall North has been overrun. Genesis also owns Kimberly Hall South, which is adjacent to its sister facility. DPH reported that, as of last week, there had been no deaths at that facility.
“As we have learned throughout the country, the virus doesn’t pick and choose based upon any primer that we can determine,” Feifer said. Kimberly Hall is “a wonderful facility with an incredible staff and [has] one of our best physicians and a dedicated geriatrician who leads the region, but for whatever reason this virus made its way around really fast and once it does it takes its toll.”
Feifer said, nationally, the death rate from the virus is nearly 20%, but at Kimberly Hall the death rate is closer to 25%.
“I wish I could tell you you exactly why they had so many at that facility when others at Genesis and others around the country and state don’t, but that speaks to how much we don’t know yet about this virus and how exactly it is so contagious and how to contain it,” he said.
“We’ve gone above and beyond the CDC guidelines because we know that’s not enough because we’re seeing cases like Kimberly Hall North,” Feifer said.
Larisa Zagorski doesn’t blame Kimberly Hall for the death of her father, who died on April 8 at the age of 82. Edward Balskus’ death certificate listed COVID-19 as a contributing factor. Zagorski’s mother is still at Kimberly Hall North.
“I don’t think they were prepared for the way this snowballed, but I’m mostly upset with the way it was reported by the state,” Zagorski said Tuesday.
Because the nursing home was locked down, the family wasn’t able to see Balskus as he developed a fever and his condition worsened.
But they were able to talk to his caregivers via virtual meetings and could see the virus spreading through the facility, where her mother is still being cared for.
“March 30 was the first meeting we did via Zoom and they had one confirmed case. When he died [on April 8th], there were ten [dead],” Zagorski said. “One week later, there were 27 [dead].”
Zagorski said her mother did contract pneumonia, but it was determined not to be related to the virus. She has also been tested for COVID-19, but the test came back negative. The family is now receiving daily updates and is hopeful that she will not become another victim of the disease.