For now, Sharon will not host COVID-19 positive facility
Update: Wednesday, April 8, 10 p.m: Sharon Health Care will be a COVID ‘recovery’ center. Click here for the full story.
By Patrick L. Sullivan, Debra A. Aleksinas and Leila Hawken
Updated Friday, April 3, 3:15 p.m.
State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) said Friday morning, April 3, that the decision to drop Sharon Health Care from the list of possible nursing homes dedicated to COVID-19 positive patients does not mean the idea won’t be revisited.
“Nothing in this situation is permanent,” she said by phone. “The need is fluid and urgent.”
Horn said the latest statistics (which she acknowledged were probably already out of date) was that there are 150 COVID-19 positive patients in 57 nursing homes statewide.
She also said the idea of moving COVID-19 positive patients to dedicated units and moving COVID-19 negative people to other facilities “was not an edict” from the governor’s office.
She described the situation as a “conversation” between state health officials and nursing home operators.
Horn emphasized that Sharon Health Care is doing “an excellent job” with the two COVID-19 positive individuals there now. She said the two patients are isolated from the rest of the facility.
“But some facilities can’t do that kind of isolation,” she added. “So the state is looking for alternatives.”
The idea of reopening closed facilities is attractive, but getting them up and running takes time.
“And time is what we don’t have a lot of.”
Any facility that takes on the job of caring for COVID-19 patients must be “adequately resourced,” Horn said.
And making the switch would involve moving a lot of people.
“It’s not a workable plan — yet,” Horn said. “But it’s all moment to moment.”
On Thursday evening, April 2, nursing home operators across Connecticut were still negotiating with the state about the proposal to segregate nursing home residents into COVID-19 positive-only and negative-only facilities.
Sharon Health Care
One of the facilities being considered as a COVID-19 positive facility was Sharon Health Care Center, an 88-bed nursing home that is owned by Athena Health Care Systems and is across the street from the 78-bed Sharon Hospital (with which it has no affiliation).
Sharon Health Care was the first nursing home in the Northwest Corner to have a COVID-19 positive resident. The woman, in her mid 50s, was put into a separate room, as was her roommate; she was not considered sufficiently ill to be hospitalized.
At present, neither of the other two facilities in the Northwest Corner has any residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Tim Brown, spokesman for Athena Health, had contacted The Lakeville Journal on Wednesday night, April 1, to talk about the plans. As late as Friday morning, Brown said things were still in flux and he would offer an update as soon as information is available.
Sharon First Selectman Brent Colley is sharing information as it becomes available by email; to be included on the contact list, send an email request to email@example.com.
On Friday morning, Colley said he has been in constant contact with Horn. He said no one had talked to him about including Sharon Health Care Center on the list of possible COVID-19 positive sites, or why it was happening.
He shared phone numbers in an email with Sharon homeowners, where they could leave comments, and, “Our residents really stepped up and phoned those numbers” for government officials involved with the decision.
Colley gave credit to Sharon residents for following the situation closely and stepping up.
As of Friday morning, Geer Village in North Canaan had received “no specific guidelines” from either state or federal agencies, said Kevin O’Connell, the facility’s executive director. He described the situation as “fluid,” noting that information coming from the state health department, governor’s office and other agencies has been changing “not daily, but hourly.”
“There has been plenty of discussion about designated COVID-19 positive facilities, but I have not been forwarded any recommendations from anybody. It’s a very difficult position to be in. My fear is that time is going to pass so quickly and we are not going to have time to plan,” said O’Connell.
“We are in close contact with area hospitals trying to relieve some of the pressure. Any way we can accept patients into Geer that are asymptomatic or COVID-19 negative would be preferable. The challenge is that, very soon, our hospitals are going to be quite overwhelmed.”
Currently, said O’Connell, Geer has taken steps internally to ensure that — should there be a confirmed case of the virus on the campus — there will be a separate area set up, to isolate those residents from the rest of the community.
O’Connell said the concept of transferring patients who test positive for COVID-19 to other nursing homes without their consent is worrisome.
“We’re dealing with people, families and communities. That’s a big step to take.”
He added that the virus is spreading “more quickly than the decisions that have to be made,” and fears that, ultimately, “people will probably not have a choice.
Presently, said O’Connell, Geer has not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“We’re more fortunate in that we are isolated because of our geographic location, but I think probably the virus is throughout all our communities. The challenge is having enough protective equipment,” should an outbreak occur on the campus.
But, he said, “We feel that we are OK right now. Our focus here at Geer is to keep residents and staff as safe as possible.”
Bill Pond, administrator at Noble Horizons in Salisbury, said Thursday that Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order concerning nursing homes will not have an effect on the facility.
“Not at this point,” he added.
Noble Horizons has 91 beds in its skilled nursing units, with 80 of those beds in use as of April 2.
There are also 14 apartments for residents in the Cobble unit, and 50 cottages for independent living.
So far the entire facility and campus are free of COVID-19, Pond said.
The facility is closed to the general public, and no visitors are allowed for the time being. Visitors are allowed at the cottages, and those residents can come and go, subject to the same guidelines as all state residents.
Vendors are directed to a designated drop-off site and anything coming in is disinfected.
Residents and staff all have their vital signs monitored regularly.
The facility has made video conferencing available for family visits and medical consultations.
And “we are providing as many activities as we can internally” to help stave off boredom, Pond said.
Pond also said he is participating in at least three conference calls a day with public health officials and his counterparts at other facilities.
Noble Horizons’ main source of referrals is Sharon Hospital, and the prospective patients are subjected to heightened screening.
“We’re reinventing what we do,” Pond said. “We don’t have much choice.”
In the discussion about the possible creation of segregated facilities for COVID-positive patients, it has been mentioned that nursing homes that have been closed could be opened again if needed. So far, The Kent nursing home is not being discussed. The Kent closed in 2015; it has been approved for use as a alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility for adults.
This is a developing story;we will update it as information becomes available.
As of mid-day Friday, April 3, there had been three COVID-related deaths in Litchfield County.
Torrington Area Health District (TAHD) is the health authority for 20 towns in the Northwest Corner, including five of the six towns in The Lakeville Journal coverage area (Sharon has its own health authority).
Robert Rubbo, the director of health for TAHD said the three deaths were all in Torrington, and were all elderly. At least one was in a retirement facility.
As of Friday morning, 11 COVID-19 positive residents of the TAHD coverage area had been hospitalized.
Information on the number of COVID-19 patients by town and by county can be found online at www.portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus; click on “Test data.”Information at the site is updated in the late afternoon.