CT COVID data shows more nursing home staff deaths than reported

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Data released by the state Thursday shows that COVID hit nursing home workers much harder early in the pandemic than was first reported.

A total of 21 nursing home workers have died from COVID infection since the pandemic began, according to state Department of Public Health data released Thursday.

Data last week showed that only five care home workers had so far died from COVID.

Rob Baril, president of SEIU 11999, a union representing many nursing home workers in Connecticut, said he expects further revisions to increase that number.

“Nursing home caregivers have sacrificed everything during the coronavirus pandemic, including paying with their own lives and the lives of their loved ones,” Baril said. “Surviving union caregivers are not surprised that the number of nursing home workers who have died from COVID-related complications is much higher than previously reported by the Department of Public Health.”

State Department of Public Health spokesman Chris Boyle said the additional death data emerged due to a “change in how we now report nursing home data” . He confirmed that the 16 deaths occurred between March and June 2020.

“Previously, we were reporting deaths of staff and residents only dating back to June 2020,” he said. “We now have a more automated process that includes the total number of deaths going back to March 2020.”

Simultaneously, data revisions show 68 fewer deaths among nursing home residents than previously reported. Last week, the state reported 4,126 COVID-related deaths among nursing home residents. This week, that data was revised down to 4,058.

Boyle attributed the change to nursing homes modifying data to correct for “COVID-related deaths that were not found to be COVID-related.”

Simone Bell, a nursing aide at St. Mary’s Home in West Hartford, said COVID hasn’t abated.

“COVID hasn’t gone. COVID is still here, and it’s getting worse,” she said. “This new COVID is worse than before. Symptoms are bad. You feel like you’re in the twilight zone.

Bell said she recently tested positive for COVID, which she said was “a result of my patient care.”

Confirmed COVID cases among Connecticut nursing home residents have increased, state data shows, but not as high as in previous waves. DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthan recently called the increase in coronavirus a “swell”, as opposed to a wave.

As of May 18, 252 cases of coronavirus have been reported among nursing home residents, up from 308 on May 8.

The previous peak was Jan. 16, when the state recorded 889 cases among nursing home residents. This wave has been attributed to the omicron variant, while the current “swell” has been attributed to the two omicron sub-variants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

“I’m seeing an increase in COVID cases in the nursing home,” Bell said. COVID cases are increasing every day at the facility.

Audrey Thompson, a nursing assistant at the Villa in Stamford, said COVID was not as bad as it was at the start of the pandemic.

“When it just started in 2020, I don’t think anyone had it under control. It was stressful for the workers,” Thompson said. “It’s not as stressful as it was back then.”

Although she said she thinks COVID is better managed, with vaccinations keeping the worst symptoms at bay, Thompson said staffing issues have not been resolved.

“The thing that’s always there is that there aren’t enough people to do the job,” Thompson said.

Bell agreed that staffing issues persisted, with one assistant responsible for no less than 28 residents.

“The staff are awful. We don’t have many people who want to do this job anymore,” she said. “Our job is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.”

Bell attributed the increase in its facility in part to staffing issues.

“We have help looking after both COVID and non-COVID residents,” she said. “Isn’t COVID going to spread even more?”

“Let’s be clear: this crisis is not over yet. Long-term care workers are still suffering in nursing homes, group homes and home care,” Baril said in a prepared statement. “This industry has been in crisis for a very long time, relying on poverty wages to provide care for our most vulnerable populations, relying on an undervalued workforce made up mostly of black, Latina and white.”

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