Nursing home operators are being encouraged to open dedicated wings for patients recovering from coronavirus and return recently closed facilities back to service to ensure that the vulnerable populations they treat every day remain safe from the pandemic.
In the same Wednesday briefing where he announced university gymnasiums will be repurposed into field hospitals, Gov. Ned Lamont said nursing homes can contribute to providing the needed healthcare capacity to contain the spread of the virus.
“We were planning to close some nursing homes in our last budget. At this point that means there’s a lot of extra capacity,” Lamont said. “There are separate wings where we could put people, there are empty nursing homes where we can put people...”
As of Wednesday, the state Department of Public Health reported that 36 of the 216 nursing homes in the state have had at least one patient test positive for COVID-19, a total of 124 cases. Fifty-two have required hospitalization and 13 have died.
Nursing homes have been supportive of setting aside spaces to treat patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are suspected of having contracted the disease, said David Skoczulek, vice president of business development for iCare Health Network, which operates Silver Springs Care Center in Meriden and 10 other nursing homes in the state.
Every patient nursing homes accept from hospitals, including those recovering from COVID-19, frees up another hospital bed. This must be balanced against bringing recovering patients into healthcare centers that already treat some of the most vulnerable, including the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and those with existing health complications, Skoczulek said.
While no patients in iCare’s facilities have tested positive, they’ve created observation areas at each where new patients are held for at least 48-hours before they’re given a room. They’ve also implemented many of the procedures used at healthcare centers across the nation, including taking the temperature of all staff and visitors. iCare has also outfitted staff who interact with patients with personal protective equipment.
Hospitals are already pushing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. Bringing those patients to nursing homes set aside entirely for the virus is preferred, Skoczulek said.
The effort to find space could be helped by using nursing homes that have closed in recent years. Those facilities would need a deep cleaning, furniture and utilities, Skoczulek.
“We actually have a number of nursing homes that are unoccupied at this point that with a modest upgrade we can use them for say COVID patients to get folks out of the nursing home in total and into a separate place where they can be quarantined,” Lamont said.