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New state data shows higher COVID-19 death toll among nursing home workers than previously recorded

nursing home for article.jpg
Stephen Dunn
Jeanne Peters, 95, a rehab patient at The Reservoir, a nursing facility, was given the first COVID-19 vaccination in a Connecticut nursing home on Dec. 18, 2020, in West Hartford. Administering the vaccine is Mary Lou Galushko, a CVS pharmacist form North Haven (left).

In the last two years, COVID-19 has caused thousands of infections among Connecticut’s front-line health care workers, some of whom never recovered. New state data provides a more accurate picture of the pandemic’s toll on nursing home staff.

A report released Thursday shows that 21 nursing home workers have died from COVID-19-related illness since March 2020 -- that’s quadruple the number previously on record.

State Department of Public Health spokesman Christopher Boyle said the data now includes some of the pandemic’s earliest worker deaths, ones that occurred in the first three months of local outbreak, before automated reporting systems were in place.

Rob Baril, president of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, said union members aren’t surprised to see death toll figures rise. The union represents about 30% of nursing home workers statewide.

“Nursing home caregivers have sacrificed everything during the coronavirus pandemic, including paying with their own lives and the lives of their relatives,” Baril said in a statement. “We expect further upward revisions on the official number of worker fatalities in the coming months.”

The state had previously recorded five nursing home staff deaths, but the data, taken from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network, only went back to June 17, 2020.

Stephanie Booth, a union member and licensed practical nurse at Apple Rehab Uncasville, said it’s been hard watching both her residents and colleagues statewide succumb to the virus.

It’s taken a toll on the profession as a whole, she said, while workers continue to deal with staffing shortages, workforce retainment problems and an ongoing pandemic.

“People just need to know how serious it is,” Booth said. “There’s a lot of workers who just don’t want to do this anymore.”

Connecticut nursing homes and other long-term treatment facilities were hit the hardest early on in the pandemic. Vaccinations helped limit severe illness, and safety precautions curbed transmission, but new coronavirus variants and waning immunity continue to cause outbreaks.

The CDC has designated six Connecticut counties as having a high transmission level of COVID-19, a threshold at which indoor masking is recommended. The other two counties are at a medium level.

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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