Since early March, Governor Lamont has issued dozens of Executive Orders to guide the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this public health emergency, and in the absence of the legislature’s regular session, this approach to governance has made sense and resulted in policies that have protected Connecticut residents and saved lives. As the state begins the process of reopening and returning to a “new normal,” it is essential to resume a more balanced approach to policymaking that includes the legislature. The Connecticut General Assembly should convene during the summer to address COVID-19 and have a public conversation about how state government has, and how it should continue to, respond to the crisis.
The Governor and State agencies have used emergency powers to implement policies that would have been unthinkable in ordinary times, particularly in regard to nursing homes. COVID-19 has, of course, been an extraordinary time, but as restaurants and other public spaces begin to reopen and more people begin to venture out of their homes, policymakers need to have a public conversation about what comes next for nursing home residents.
Nursing home residents have been ravaged by COVID-19 and are wildly overrepresented in the state’s totals for both infections and deaths; 77% of nursing homes have had at least one COVID-19 case, and nursing home residents account for more than half of the state’s total deaths. These residents and their loved ones need to be included in policy decisions that will have an ongoing impact on their health, safety, and autonomy, and while their interests have been well-represented in internal conversation by advocates including the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, we have to do better. Convening the legislature for a special session will give nursing home residents and their loved ones the opportunity to more actively participate in the decisions that impact their lives and wellbeing.
According to the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the population of Americans age 65 and older is expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades. The #Hispanic population, in particular, is expected to make up an increasing proportion of those aged 65 and older in the coming years reports the U.S. Census Bureau.
Residents of nursing homes, including individuals with disabilities that do not necessarily place them at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 infections, have been unable to see visitors – including family members, friends, privately hired aides, attorneys, ombudsmen, and abuse and neglect investigators – since March 13, 2020. Beginning in early April, an Executive Order (EO 7U, subsequently superseded by EO 7V) made nursing homes and other health care facilities “immune from suit for civil liability for any injury or death alleged to have been sustained because of the individual’s or health care facility’s acts or omissions undertaken in good faith while providing health care services in support of the State’s COVID-19 response.” This immunity is applicable even in situations in which health care professionals and facilities are “unable to provide the level or manner of care that otherwise would have been required in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Nursing home residents and their loved ones deserve to weigh in on how these orders have impacted them, and a special session could provide an opportunity for that conversation to take place. A special session could also serve as an opportunity to debate whether the state has taken adequate action to ensure that all nursing home staff and residents receive regular and ongoing COVID-19 tests; discuss whether nursing home residents should have the ability to install cameras in their rooms to help keep them connected to loved ones; and address other issues that individual residents have raised with their elected officials.
The Governor and state agency staff have done an extraordinary job of responding to an unprecedented and terrifying situation. It’s time for the legislature to reconvene and use a special session to elevate and react to the voices of those who have been most impacted by COVID-19.
Anna Doroghazi is the Associate State Director – Policy and Advocacy, for AARP CT.
She is an experienced policy and advocacy professional. Skilled in policy development, lobbying, volunteer management, public relations, and public speaking. Committed to advocating for AARP’s 600,000 members in Connecticut and helping everyone choose how they live as they age.