MERIDEN — A COVID-19 recovery center opening at the former Westfield Rehab nursing facility on Westfield Road will initially accept up to 30 patients and could eventually house up to 120.
The temporary recovery center at 65 Westfield Road, one of several approved by the state, will act as a transition facility where COVID-19 positive nursing home residents can stay temporarily after being discharged from the hospital.
A North Haven nursing home, Montowese Health & Rehabilitation Center, has received approval to operate the recovery center at the former Westfield facility, which closed months back due to years of financial losses. Apple Rehab, which owned and operated Westfield and still owns the building, is leasing it to Montowese.
Montowese, at 163 Quinnipiac Ave. in North Haven, is owned by Athena Health Care Systems, which has already opened two other recovery centers in Sharon and Bridgeport, with a third expected to open in Torrington this week. Tim Brown, Athena’s director of marketing and communications, said the company doesn’t know exactly when the Meriden facility will begin accepting patients but said it wouldn’t be until “toward the end of this week at the earliest.”
In a statement, Athena said the recovery centers will “provide beds for individuals still recovering from COVID-19 but who no longer require hospital-level care,” freeing up “critically needed acute-care hospital beds for those who require that level of care.”
Recovery centers are being opened around the state under state Department of Public Health supervision as part of a “surge plan” to expand nursing home capacity and isolate infected residents. Patients at the recovery center will need to test negative for COVID-19 on two separate tests taken 24 hours or more apart before being transferred back to their original nursing home.
According to a consent order issued by the state, once the Meriden facility has 30 patients, it will be able to add 30 more patients at a time with written permission from the state until a maximum capacity of 120 is reached.
The consent order also spells out staffing requirements, including nurse-to-patient ratio requirements for different shifts. During its busiest shifts, the facility will be required to maintain one licensed nurse for every 15 patients and one aide for every 10 patients.
The nursing facility on Westfield Road is located in a residential area, causing concern among nearby homeowners.
“There was obviously some concern that we've gotten from members from the community,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said, “and DPH has assured us they're going to be making their presence known there, and they will be conducting inspections.”
DPH did not return requests for comment.
The state is requiring facility staff to hold weekly conference calls with DPH to discuss capacity, staffing, personal protective equipment and other issues. City Manager Tim Coon said the city is lobbying to participate in the weekly calls.
“It’s not a perfect scenario,” Scarpati said, “and there's a lot of information we’ve just learned over the last 24 hours, but we’re taking the state on their word that they're going to hold the facility accountable.”
The consent order requires the facility to designate a registered nurse as “the infection control nurse,” who will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of an “infection control and surveillance program.” The order also requires the facility “to the extent available” to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
Struggle for answers
After trying unsuccessfully to get information from the state for weeks, city officials received a briefing from DPH commissioner Renée Coleman-Mitchell and other state officials during a conference call Monday. The conference call was held at the request of state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie and state Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden.
While Brown, the Athena spokesman, said Tuesday that an opening date hasn’t been decided and won’t be today, Coon and Scarpati said state officials told them the facility would open today, which Scarpati said was “surprising” considering “we only had our first call (Monday) to make us aware of all this.”
In a Facebook Live interview with the Record-Journal last week, Scarpati voiced frustration over a lack of information provided to the city. Coleman-Mitchell apologized to local officials on the conference call Monday, according to Scarpati.
“She understood where our frustrations are coming from and said there were a lot of moving parts,” Scarpati said.
The patients at Meriden’s recovery center will be from the “Region 2 hospital catchment area,” according to Coon. The region covers the south-central part of the state, Scarpati said. Another recovery facility recently opened in Wallingford will also accept patients from Region 2, according to Scarpati.
As the number of infections in Connecticut continues to swell, surpassing 20,000 Tuesday, state health officials confirmed this week that more than half of all coronavirus-related deaths in Connecticut, 56 percent, involve nursing home residents, the Connecticut Mirror reported.
Health care experts have repeatedly warned that patients over 60 are among the most vulnerable to complications from the disease and the average age of nursing home admissions in Connecticut is around 80.