An asymptomatic healthcare worker. A bathroom shared by seniors. And wavering national public health guidance in the early weeks of the pandemic.
Mary Wade Home administrators and New Haven’s top health official pointed to those three factors as the likely reasons for why the Fair Haven nursing home has suffered the most fatal COVID-19 outbreak so far of any elderly care facility in the city.
According to the latest weekly COVID-19 nursing home impact report put out by the state Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as of July 28, Mary Wade Home has seen a cumulative total of 61 COVID-19 cases and 29 related fatalities among residents in its 94-bed facility.
That’s double the number of fatalities of the next hardest hit local nursing home, Advanced Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation in the Hill, which has seen 14 COVID-related deaths and 106 confirmed cases among residents in its 226-bed facility.
RegalCare in Fair Haven Heights has had seven COVID-related fatalities and 51 confirmed cases among residents in its 150-bed facility. And Yale’s Grimes Health Center in Dwight has had three COVID-related deaths and 57 confirmed cases among residents in its 114-bed facility.
In interviews with the Independent Tuesday afternoon, Mary Wade Home Executive Director Stan DeCosta, Mary Wade Home CEO David Hunter, and city Health Director Maritza Bond all stressed that the Fair Haven nursing home has successfully implemented mass testing — in partnership with Fair Haven Community Health Care — and other infection control protocols over the past three-plus months to protect its residents from the novel coronavirus.
The state and federal impact reports show that Mary Wade has had only six new COVID-19 cases and one new related fatality among residents since the last week of May.
DeCosta said, and the state data bear out, that Mary Wade has not reported a single new positive case in well over a month.
“Teams from Connecticut DPH and National Guard have inspected Mary Wade six times so far as part of focused infection control surveys between April and July,” state DPH spokesperson Av Harris told the Independent by email. “Our teams focused on infection control practices, staffing levels and training, and availability and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) among other things.”
Bond added that the local health department currently checks in with Mary Wade’s infection control staff twice a week.
She, DeCosta, and Hunter credited regular point prevalence surveys (PPS)—that is, mass testing of all of the facility’s residents over the course of a single day—as turning the tide in early May in the nursing home’s attempts to stem the spread of the virus.
“Overall, Mary Wade was responsive and proactive in ensuring the overall safety of their residents,” Bond said. She commended the nursing home for doing “an exemplary job in meeting the residents they serve.”
And yet, the state data show that the historic Fair Haven nursing home — which consists of adjacent residential and skilled nursing facilities at 118 Clinton Ave. and is in the process of building a new 84-unit building nearby — has seen by far the largest number of COVID-related deaths of any nursing home in the city. It’s also among the top 25 in the state in terms of related deaths among residents.
In reflecting back on the early days of the pandemic in late March and early April, DeCosta and Hunter described a dangerous and confusing time when the national government provided little guidance on the efficacy of mask-wearing, cohorting, and mass testing of asymptomatic individuals as key to stopping the spread.
“Before there were clear and comprehensive recommendations and understanding from the CDC, it was already spreading,” DeCosta said about the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stumbling response to the pandemic.
“I believe the overriding factor in the COVID experience was the inability to manage the virus and its spread since people were asymptomatic,” Hunter added by email. “Unfortunately, in March and April, we did not have testing [or] appropriate levels of PPE.”
Harris and Bond said that Mary Wade Home is not the only nursing home in the state—or the country, for that matter—to have seen a devastating stretch of infections and deaths early on in the pandemic.
The spread of the virus in such facilities proved all the more lethal as the elderly and immuno-compromised suffer disproportionately adverse health effects from COVID-19.
“Rates of infection in nursing homes are generally related to rates of disease transmission in the communities in which they were located,” Harris wrote. “Many Nursing Homes in impacted communities saw high rates of infection in the early Spring.”