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Sawyer Thornton of Sharon Health Care said staff morale is good and most patients are recovering well. Photo submitted

Sharon Health Care Center: Joy as patients ‘graduate’ and return home

SHARON — The governor’s office continues to post helpful updates daily online at www.portal.ct.gov/Coronavirus, with statistics that this week show a continued decrease in positive cases of COVID-19 in Litchfield County. Deaths continue at a rate of about three per day.

One locale of concern in terms of both COVID cases and COVID statistics has been Sharon Health Care Center, a long-term care facility that is across the street from (but not affiliated with) Sharon Hospital. The health care center is owned by Athena Health Care, which is based in Farmington, Conn., and owns 23 nursing homes in Connecticut and 31 others elsewhere in New England.

Because it is a large system, Athena was able to work with the state government in creating a safe space for patients to receive care after they’ve been released from a hospital but before they have tested negative for the coronavirus twice in 24 hours. 

Sharon Health Care had some COVID-positive patients before the decision was made. COVID-negative  residents were moved to other Athena facilities and the 88 beds in Sharon were made available to recovering patients, most of whom came here from St. Francis Hospital in Farmington. 

Nursing home numbers

There has been some concern in news media reports in recent weeks about states that have not made information available about the number of COVID-endangered patients at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Gov. Ned Lamont and state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) routinely make that information available in their news updates. 

Those statistics indicate that the 88-bed Sharon Health Care Center (SHCC) has only seven COVID-positive patients. 

SHCC Administrator Sawyer Thornton said that the number seven only indicates the number of COVID-positive patients who are long-term residents of the facility. COVID-positive patients who are recovering at SHCC are included in the count for their home towns; a patient at SHCC from Hartford, for example, would not increase the count either for SHCC or for the town of Sharon. He or she would be included instead in the statistics for Hartford. 

As of Saturday morning, Thornton said, there were 59 COVID-positive patients at SHCC. Seven of them are recovered and testing negative and “we are working on discharging them.”

In total, 17 of the COVID-positive patients at SHCC have recovered and have been transferred back to their original residences. 

In early conversations about the COVID recovery surge plan, it seemed that there would be COVID positive and COVID negative facilities.

Thornton clarified that there are no  designated COVID-negative facilities in the state. 

“They’re either ‘COVID unknown’ or they have a COVID-positive wing. Most of the nursing homes have a separate wing for COVID-positive patients, or they are sending them to the hospital.”

From IVs to PT

Thornton said that SHCC functions as a sort of “mini hospital.” 

The staff can insert IVs to help keep patients hydrated, which is essential. 

“We can monitor them and do lab work here. We can give them oxygen, although we do not do ventilators. We do physical therapy to help get them stronger.

“We’re trying to help them in any way we can to recover.”  

The state’s statistics sheet shows that there have been no COVID deaths at Sharon Health Care. Sadly, that only indicates that so far none of the SHCC residents has died. 

“We have had six deaths,” Thornton said, adding that for the SHCC staff, “It’s tough. People think we’re just going to be like a hospice facility but that’s not correct. We’re getting people who are coming from the hospital and trying to recover them. 

“But not everyone is going to recover, and that’s difficult for everybody. But many of them do get better.”

Leveling off, for now

There have been triumphs in addition to the tragedies. 

“Our first resident that we admitted from outside wasn’t very strong when she came in,” Thornton said. “We weren’t sure if she would make it, but she did recover and went on to another skilled nursing facility. Not all of them, unfortunately, will make it but there is a large percentage at our facility that we do expect to recover and make it home.”

The first COVID-positive patients arrived at SHCC in mid April. They were all hospital patients who no longer needed that intensive level of care but who were still testing positive and could not return to their own residences. 

Since April, Thornton said, admissions have leveled off. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when the restrictions are lifted, so we are waiting to see if more people in the older population become ill,” she said. 

Plenty of supplies

There had been concerns that SHCC staff were not getting enough support and supplies. Thornton said that is untrue. Her employees are all earning hazard pay during this period and they are well-supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We have plenty of PPE, which is provided by the state and our corporate office,” she said. “And we’ve had wonderful donations from The Hotchkiss School from the very beginning, lots of surgical masks and the N95 safety masks, and they made us reusable gowns. The PPE are still pouring in; we are very fortunate to have as much as we do.”

Nancy Vaughn at Hotchkiss was in charge of distributing PPE that the school was receiving as donations from the school community. The health care center is now sufficiently well-stocked that the school is able to offer them to other facilities and individuals who need them. 

Community support

After an initial negative response to SHCC caring for the COVID-positive patients, the Sharon community is now becoming more supportive, Thornton said. 

A Meal Train was set up for the facility’s staff, and is almost completely full. 

“Morale is good,” Thornton said. “It was tough in the beginning but everybody has a positive attitude. They’re coming in prepared to work and help these people recover. Seeing the patients graduate is very encouraging to them.

“I can’t say enough about my team. They’ve stepped up to the plate and are doing a great job and working hard so that, as we all hope, life can get back to normal.”

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