Nicole Leonard | Connecticut Public Radio
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Nicole Leonard

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.

While an undergraduate journalism student at Boston University, Nicole was a reporter for The Daily Free Press and a radio host at WTBU. As an intern, her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe and Boston.com. In her downtime, she watches way too many movies and television shows, which complicates her goal to become a better runner.

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

A small team of nurses and support staff set up tables and medical supplies inside the Open Hearth homeless shelter for men in Hartford.

Shelter clients and employees, all masked, lined up to register at a check-in table. Geriann Gallagher, an advanced practice registered nurse, brought clients over one at a time to her vaccination station. Austin Anglin, 67, sat down. 

Sodanie Chea / Creative Commons

State lawmakers want to ban all flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products for good this legislative session to cut off their popularity with kids and teens.

Anti-smoking and public health advocates hope the bill will ultimately reduce vaping and tobacco addiction among youth, as well as address some racial health disparities. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

In early March, Vic Gara came down with severe muscle aches, headaches and a rising blood pressure, indicators of COVID-19 that weren’t well understood early on in the pandemic.

“Taking a shower, just the water hurt my body,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I slowly became hypoxic. I just couldn’t breathe.” 

Eventually, he was admitted to Hartford Hospital, where he was quarantined immediately and separated from his wife, Laura. 

In a series of changes to initial guidelines, Trump administration officials announced Tuesday that states should vaccinate all residents 65 years and older sooner rather than later.

Federal health officials are also encouraging states to expand the next phase of vaccine distribution to all adults who have preexisting conditions that put them at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Two New Haven County residents under the age of 25 years old have tested positive for a new, more transmissible variant of SARS-CoV-2, the type of coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Medical experts say this variant, scientifically labeled B.1.1.7 and first discovered in the United Kingdom, appears to spread more easily and quickly. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.” 

A Hartford HealthCare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Transportation workers, mail carriers, teachers, first responders, grocery store employees and others are positioned to be the next groups of people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Connecticut.

State officials said during a public meeting Tuesday that the state’s Phase 1B vaccination distribution could begin as early as this month and include up to 800,000 workers and residents. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Luz Morales was working as a certified nursing assistant at RegalCare at Waterbury, a nursing home, when she fell ill with COVID-19.

At home, her 70-year-old mother, Nicia, looked in on her. 

A Hartford HealthCare worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Several national polls and surveys show that a growing number of people are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s their turn.

But with vaccine supply limited in the first weeks and months of distribution, Connecticut will have to prioritize exactly who comes next in line after hospital employees, health workers and people in long-term care facilities. 

AP Pool

Nine grueling months into the pandemic, nursing home workers and operators say they’re feeling some relief with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Everybody wants to get back to the lives we had before, so the vaccine is a great step toward that,” said Sophia Walker, a registered nurse at The Reservoir nursing home in West Hartford.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

In anticipation of potential COVID-19 surges in the coming weeks, state officials and health experts are expanding the Hartford region’s hospital bed capacity.

The state National Guard and the Department of Public Health in partnership with Hartford HealthCare are reopening a 600-bed field hospital at the Connecticut Convention Center. They say this is a precautionary move as numbers of cases and hospitalizations continue to generally trend upward. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

More shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived Tuesday at Connecticut hospitals, many of which began immediately vaccinating front-line workers.

That included Ivan Sarmiento, an emergency room registered nurse at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, a member of Trinity Health Of New England. He was cheered on by colleagues as he became the first employee to get a dose shortly before noon. 

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Surrounded by colleagues underneath a tent that protected them from the freezing rain, Dr. Ajay Kumar rolled up his sleeve as a nurse cleaned the upper part of his arm with an antiseptic wipe.

“Here we go, number one,” someone shouted. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

At almost 16 years old, Emma Heslin knew very little about any type of diabetes. But then she was diagnosed with Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes.

“You’re like, what is that, what does that mean?” said Heslin, now a 22-year-old registered nurse. “So, you’re not going into it knowing it’s lifelong.” 

Graeme Robertson / AP

After more than nine months of a pandemic that has sickened and killed millions worldwide, the United States is on the verge of obtaining its first federally reviewed COVID-19 vaccine.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a group of independent scientists and researchers from institutions all over the country, will hold a public meeting today to discuss Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. 

ALAN LEVINE / Creative Commons

Shortly before his 24th birthday, Jesus Morales Sanchez of New Haven was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic illness that requires him to take insulin for the rest of his life.

But at the time, he was in between jobs and didn’t have health insurance, so the medication would cost him several hundred dollars that he didn’t have. 

SIPA VIA AP IMAGES

The federal government could grant emergency use authorization to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as next week, potentially getting doses in the hands of Connecticut hospitals by mid-December.

While official statewide distribution plans are still being finalized, health providers do know enough about the upcoming vaccines in order to take some immediate steps in preparation, with little time to spare. 

Franchise Opportunities / Flickr

Open enrollment periods for two of the nation’s largest health insurance programs and marketplaces are running concurrently, but time is ticking.

Connecticut state officials and health insurance experts are urging people to pick health plans now before it’s too late to secure coverage for 2021, which will see a continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts. 

ALAN LEVINE / Creative Commons

When the coronavirus became widespread in Connecticut earlier this year, Tom Dykas was already on a seasonal layoff from his job.

By April, that layoff became permanent as businesses downsized and shed positions due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. That left Dykas, who has Type 1 diabetes, searching for employment. 

TYLER RUSSELL / Connecticut Public

Beginning Monday, Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks will add a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site open to travelers and all other community members.

The Connecticut Airport Authority is partnering with Hartford HealthCare to run the site in parking Lot 3 off Schoephoester Road. This will be the health organization’s ninth permanent testing location in the state. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

A statewide coalition of lawmakers, activists and health experts Thursday announced that health care reform will be a top priority heading into the next legislative session.

Coalition leaders at a news conference at the Capitol building said the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent election have become driving factors in reintroducing a plan for a public option health insurance program for Connecticut residents, small businesses and nonprofits. 

Wikimedia Commons

Typically, the foot traffic in and out of the Wheeler Family Health and Wellness Center on Woodland Avenue in Hartford would be pretty steady.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Keturah Kinch said in-person activity has been a bit quieter. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Even in a deep blue state like Connecticut, Saturday’s announcement of Joe Biden’s win in the U.S. presidential election was met with a mixture of caution, elation, disappointment and disapproval.

Two opposing camps of people outside the Capitol building in Hartford made that well known as they shouted at each other from opposite sides of Capitol Avenue -- President Donald Trump supporters in front of the gold-domed building and Biden supporters in front of the state Supreme Court. 

Courtesy of Access Health CT

The first week in November marks a busy time as COVID-19 cases climb in Connecticut and the nation faces a contentious presidential election.  

But health advocates want people to remember that it’s also the first week of open enrollment in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Health care workers stood along Route 195 out in front of Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield Thursday afternoon as they waved signs and used megaphones to demand better workplace protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

When Debra O’Neall gets home from her overnight shift at a nursing home in Danbury, she removes her scrubs and jumps in the shower before she does anything else.

Later, she settles in on the sofa, turns on the news, picks up a sketchbook from the coffee table and begins to draw.  

Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

The timeline on a COVID-19 vaccine is generally unknown, but whether one is approved this year or the next, Wizdom Powell said it won’t help much if Black residents lack confidence in its safety and effectiveness.

“There’s so many stories of Black folks surrendering their bodies to medical institutions and coming out worse after,” said Powell, who is director of the Health Disparities Institute at UConn Health. 

Sipa via AP Images

With few answers on how and when a COVID-19 vaccine will actually be available, Connecticut has submitted a draft plan to the federal government on how it will execute statewide mass vaccination.

The 77-page document, submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the Oct. 16 deadline, outlines potential groups of people who would receive priority status for getting doses early on and how the state will coordinate vaccine administration by medical providers. 

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

In raincoats, plastic ponchos and masks, Backus Hospital workers and their families Tuesday lined both sides of Washington Street in Norwich near the facility’s entrance. They held signs, waved to oncoming traffic and chanted.

“Nurses united will never be divided!” 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

A large group of people in red and yellow reflective vests huddled together on the Wolcott Town Green at around 9 a.m. Tuesday. Some of them work for the Chesprocott Health District, and others were volunteers with the region’s Medical Reserve Corps.

The day began with overcast skies. It looked like it might rain, again. The grass was still wet. 

Cloe Poisson / CT Mirror

Health experts around the world recognized early in the COVID-19 pandemic that older people were most at risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from the new coronavirus.

But despite those early findings, thousands of Connecticut residents in long-term care facilities have died. 

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