The Department of Public Health continues to investigate a COVID-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Norwich.
According to DPH, as of last Thursday 13 residents and two staff members at Three Rivers Healthcare tested positive for the virus. Several people remain hospitalized and one person has since died.
“I know that the infection is continuing to grow in that facility,” said Jesse Martin, Vice President of SEIU 1199. SEIU 1199 represents 80 healthcare workers at Three Rivers in Norwich.
Martin said that, while he knows the infection continues to grow, he does not know the most recent information on positive cases because DPH releases data weekly, not daily. Once data is released, health care workers are not included in the positive case numbers.
“Workers are concerned that they could catch COVID-19, spread the disease at the workplace and in their homes because the Department of Public Health is not responding properly,” Martin said in a statement. “Testing regimes for nursing home residents and staff must be improved and fully enforced. Nursing home administrators must be educated and held accountable in a timely manner for personal protective equipment shortages and protocol violations.”
According to Martin, workers at Three Rivers have not had access to sufficient PPE. He believes the state should be doing more.
“We need to have the DPH have a daily presence in this nursing home,” said Martin.
Deidre Gifford, the acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said her agency had investigators at the facility in Norwich on Thursday.
“This unfortunate outbreak underscores the need for all of us to keep our guard up in the fight against COVID-19,” Gifford said in a statement. “COVID is still present in our communities and the virus can spread quickly if we do not remain vigilant about controlling the infection. DPH is conducting an analysis to determine how the virus may have been introduced into Three Rivers, and we are investigating all aspects of this facility’s infection control practices, including appropriate cohorting, PPE use by staff, and appropriate staff screening.”
The investigators are looking at Three Rivers’ infection control procedures, staffing levels, staff screening practices, and whether the nursing home is properly cohorting residents who are infected with COVID-19.
The union told NBC Connecticut they believe a staff member brought the virus into the nursing home which led to the outbreak.
Gifford said if any violations are found, citations will be issued as warranted.
As the investigation continues, family members are also raising concerns.
Katelynn Gosselin has not seen her grandmother, Maryjane Jackson, since March. Jackson is living at Three Rivers. She has not tested positive for COVID-19, but Gosselin is nervous that her grandmother will get sick.
“I am very nervous because of how it is spreading,” said Gosselin.
Gosselin started a petition online, asking that the COVID-19 residents be transferred to one of the state’s COVID-19 recovery centers.
“I know once COVID starts, it is hard to stop, but if they were not in the same facility I don’t think the numbers would be increasing,” said Gosselin.
According to a spokesperson for DPH, there are currently two COVID-19 recovery facilities still in operation and two others that currently do not have any patients but could be reactivated.
Martin said that transfers can have negative effects on nursing home patients, however he does believe more can be done to stop the spread of the virus inside the building. He said that he believes Three Rivers is cohorting and separating sick patients, but he worries about “critical levels of short staffing.”
“You should have staff that is dedicated to the care of COVID positive people and separate staff that is dedicated to the care of COVID negative people,” said Martin. “If there is short staffing in the nursing home you can’t do either one.”
Martin said that staffing levels have begun to improve at Three Rivers thanks to out of state workers coming in to help.
A representative from Three Rivers told NBC Connecticut, “utilizing the most recent regulatory guidance Three Rivers Healthcare has put in place appropriate measures to control the spread of COVID-19 within the center.”
NBC Connecticut asked Three Rivers Healthcare for more information on what the measures look like, but did not hear back.