The state Department of Public health is investigating a coronavirus outbreak at a Norwich nursing home, where at least one resident has died and several are hospitalized after a supervisor returned from an out-of-state trip and tested positive when she returned to work.
State DPH spokesman Av Harris said 13 residents and at least two employees have tested positive for the virus. He said DPH is investigating the origin of the outbreak.
Officials discovered the outbreak during routine testing of employees at the Three Rivers Rehabilitation Center, but union officials are questioning why it took so long for the state to test all of the employees in the facility when testing had started back in June.
Jesse Martin, vice president of nursing homes for SEIU Healthcare 1199, which represents about 80 employees at the facility, said three union members have now tested positive and that the nursing home is under-staffed and lacks the proper personal protective equipment. Martin said union officials delivered face shields and masks to the facility Friday morning.
DPH investigators visited the facility Thursday and interim DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford said “we are investigating all aspects of this facility’s infection control practices, including appropriate cohorting, PPE use by staff, and appropriate staff screening.”
Gifford said they are looking at how often staff had been tested and also whether the facility was following DPH guidelines to do temperature checks before and after every shift for every employee as well as have them fill out a questionnaire on whether they have traveled out of state.
On Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont said state officials are “taking a hard look” at the Norwich outbreak. He said DPH investigators are investigating and “hopefully we have got it” under control.
Martin said DPH investigators cited Three Rivers management on Wednesday for not properly cohorting the COVID positive patients. DPH guidelines call for separating COVID positive patients from everyone else and to have separate staff deal with only those patients.
Martin said employees have noticed since the increased testing has led to a big drop in the number of COVID cases in long-term care facilities, there has been a lack of adherence to DPH guidelines, including the mandatory temperature taking.
“This unfortunate outbreak underscores the need for all of us to keep our guard up in the fight against COVID-19,” Gifford said. “COVID is still present in our communities and the virus can spread quickly if we do not remain vigilant about controlling the infection.”
Martin questioned why the entire staff at Three Rivers wasn’t completely tested until the end of July when the state had started its testing program in June and was supposed to have visited every nursing home during that time. Martin said residents had been tested previously.
He also said the outbreak highlights the problem with the state’s decision to stop testing in a nursing home if it had no cases for 14 days.
“This is a perfect example of the testing regime failing the employees and the residents of this facility,” Martin said. “This entire staff wasn’t tested until the end of July and by then this person could have actively been shedding the virus.”
Until this outbreak Three Rivers had been relatively COVID-free, according to DPH records.
Nursing home testing records that DPH published last Thursday showed that the facility only had one COVID-19 case and no deaths. The newest nursing home numbers are expected to show the outbreak.
Three Rivers is a for-profit nursing home with 114 beds. DPH records show 61 residents had been tested as of last week and there had only been one positive case through Aug. 11.
DPH officials conducted two inspections of the facility in 2019 and it was fined $10,377 in April 2019 by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, records show.
The two inspection reports include a resident who was injured after falling out of a lift chair after two employees started arguing about how to do it and one stormed out of the room while the patient was in mid-air. The resident suffered a broken hip.
The facility also was cited for having unmarked and open multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine, including one that had been opened 69 days earlier and not sealed. The expiration date on many flu vaccines is 30 days after the vials are opened.
Inspectors also found an opened case of beer without the benefit of a name label identifying to whom it belonged on a nourishment cart.