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State Investigates COVID-19 Outbreak, One Death At Norwich Nursing Home

Three Rivers Nursing Home

State officials are investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Three Rivers Nursing Home in Norwich, where one resident has died and several have been hospitalized.

The Department of Public Health has so far identified 13 residents and two staff members infected with the virus -- it’s the largest outbreak at a single nursing facility in about a month, according to state data. 

Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford said DPH has been on-site this week at Three Rivers, a 114-bed for-profit skilled nursing and long-term care home owned by JACC Healthcare Group.

“We have been looking at all of their infection-control practices, the process that they’ve been using to cohort or put together individuals with the same infection status -- that’s important, we’re making sure they’re doing that correctly,” she said during a media briefing Thursday.

Gifford said state officials are assessing the facility’s compliance with Gov. Ned Lamont’s June 17 executive order that requires mandatory weekly testing of staff at long-term care facilities for the duration of the public health emergency, or until there are no new cases detected at that facility after 14 consecutive days.

But Jesse Martin, vice president of labor union SEIU 1199NE, which represents about 80 employees at Three Rivers, said that weekly testing of staff was delayed for weeks and that it wasn’t the fault of the nursing home operator, but rather due to lack of support and guidance from the state.

“We’ve been feeling and we’ve been saying that this testing regime is putting facilities like JACC of Norwich in a vulnerable place where outbreaks will continue to happen and put residents and their staff at risk,” he said, “and also the community, because when the staff get sick, they don’t live at the nursing home, they’re going to bring it home to their families.”

Martin said union workers are among those who have tested positive.

“We have members who work in this facility who also have family that are residents in this facility,” he said, “and so they are wearing 10 different hats, one being a caregiver, two being a worker and another being a family member of a resident who is now at risk.”

State data show that up until this outbreak, the facility had only one other COVID-19 resident case, which was recorded earlier this month. 

Gov. Ned Lamont stressed the importance of vigorous testing.

“We’re taking a hard look at Norwich, what happened there, how did that infection get into Norwich, and hopefully we detected that early enough that we can get the people quarantined,” he said during Thursday’s media briefing. 

COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped significantly in the last several weeks as cases in the general population have also declined, but Martin said front-line health workers, including those at nursing homes, are still struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels and acquire personal protective equipment.

“I worry about whatever is going to come,” he said, “because we need significant changes in the long-term care industry to be able to deal with this pandemic and to help both the residents and the caregivers survive.”

Any evidence of safety or policy violations found during a DPH investigation will be made public. If merited, the facility could face citations and fines.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.
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