More than six months have passed since COVID-19 entered Connecticut. In that time, 8,847 nursing home residents have been infected with the virus, and 2,877 have died. More than 300 staff have gotten sick. While residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have accounted for roughly 40% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide, they’ve accounted for more than 70% of deaths in Connecticut.
These numbers are sad and shocking, but there’s another number, largely absent from conversations about COVID-19, that also bears mention along with these other statistics: zero.
Some nursing home residents have had zero visitors since March. Some residents have eaten zero meals with another person in the past six months. Some residents have spent zero minutes holding the hand of their spouse and have received zero hugs. In the early days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes were catastrophic and no one understood how the virus was transmitted, it made sense to act quickly and adopt aggressive restrictions on visitation. While the Department of Public Health has relaxed some restrictions in recent months – allowing some outdoor visitation and expanding who can receive indoor compassionate care visits – residents who survived the COVID-19 pandemic are now at risk due to a second pandemic of loneliness and social isolation.
At the same time, the Connecticut General Assembly has considered zero pieces of legislation related to nursing homes and COVID-19. Nursing homes were not on the agenda for the July Special Session, and it does not appear that they will be on the Special Session agenda for September. This is not to say that legislators do not care about the residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Many do care deeply, and some have loved ones who live and have died in nursing homes in recent months. The fact remains, however, that legislative leadership has not addressed, head on, the fate of nursing home residents and their loved ones.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, all Connecticut residents have been subject to restrictions, many of which have been necessary to protect our health and safety. No other population, however, has been subject to the same level of restriction as residents of long-term care facilities, and their fate deserves a public conversation.
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.
AARP Connecticut is calling on legislators to take four concrete actions in the coming weeks when they convene for a special session:
1. Require long-term care facilities to adopt appropriate standards for indoor and outdoor visits, and hold facility owners and managers accountable when visitation standards are not upheld.
2. Allow nursing home residents to install cameras in their rooms as a way to stay better connected to friends and family members.
3. Increase staffing at long-term care facilities so that residents receive adequate care and staff are not overworked.
4. End civil immunity for nursing homes. We are six months into the pandemic, and we need to re-establish accountability.
There is no question that many long-term care facilities and their employees have gone above and beyond to keep residents safe and healthy in the past six months, but this is not true at all facilities, and there needs to be accountability across the board when facilities fail to meet appropriate standards. We have also entered a phase of the pandemic where promoting social connection needs to be a top priority. Again, some facilities have done all they can to safely foster connection. Others have done the bare minimum, and some have done less.
The Governor’s Office and the Department of Public Health have shouldered the burden of making difficult decisions since Day One of the pandemic when it comes to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. It’s time for the General Assembly to join the conversation. There are many unacceptable numbers when it comes to COVID-19, and when it comes to taking action, zero should be one of them.
Anna Doroghazi is the Associate State Director for Advocacy & Outreach at AARP CT.
AARP, which is included among the advertising sponsors of this website, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps people 50 and older improve the quality of their lives, with offices in every state as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Publisher’s Note: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTLN.