Weeks of state investigations, monitoring and intervention at Three Rivers Nursing Home in Norwich following a COVID-19 outbreak has culminated in the imminent relocation of all residents.
In a rare and unprecedented move, the Department of Public Health's acting commissioner Deidre Gifford signed an emergency order Wednesday requiring the facility to discharge its 53 residents to other long-term care facilities.
She said ongoing violations and widespread issues at the facility that contributed to a late-July COVID-19 outbreak are too numerous and not easily fixed.
“This is a difficult and sad step we have to take,” Gifford said outside Norwich City Hall Wednesday, “but the department has concluded that it’s in the best interest of the health and safety of the residents, staff and families at this facility.”
The move comes less than a week after DPH appointed a temporary manager to take over nursing home operations in an effort to correct the violations and issues. At least 21 residents and six staff members have been infected, and four residents have died.
Katharine Sacks is an attorney and independent, licensed nursing home administrator with 20 years of experience, having worked with more than 30 distressed facilities. She started as the temporary manager on Sept. 10.
Armed with DPH surveys, investigation reports and consultation from other experts, Sacks was tasked with addressing problems with delivery of care, inadequate infection control, deterioration of systems of accountability, lack of staff education, absence of management policies and controls, and other issues.
But Sacks said she quickly determined that they would not be resolved by a federally-mandated deadline of Sept. 30.
“It took me about 30 hours on site to realize that the building blocks of compliance were not present on site,” she said. “I’ve never served in a facility that I did not believe I could bring in to timely compliance.”
There are currently 17 residents who are COVID-19 positive, and another seven residents are under observation for suspected illness.
Gifford said the state has made an arrangement with Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford, the closest COVID-19—positive state unit, to take and care for these residents. The state will begin transferring residents this week.
When these residents recover, the state will then help them choose new, permanent homes.
Residents who are not infected with COVID-19 will get a choice to move to another long-term care facility within about 15 miles of Three Rivers.
“I believe that in the area, there are enough fine facilities with significant number of beds available that it’s likely that most if not all residents will be able to go to their first-choice home,” Sacks said.
There’s no definitive timeline to discharge and move these residents. Sacks said they need ensure that they’re transferring people in the safest way possible, and that can’t be rushed.
“We’re not doing this overnight,” she said. “We anticipate relocating under 10 people every day, one at a time, in separate transport, without people waiting in halls or otherwise having any contact with [coronavirus] vectors.”
Three Rivers is owned and operated by JACC Healthcare Group, which has another facility in Windham. The nursing home is likely to close given that it cannot accept new residents.
Representatives from labor union SEIU 1199NE, which represents about 80 employees at the facility, said in a statement they were “extremely disappointed” in the emergency order and DPH’s inability to step in earlier and provide better oversight before this point.
“Today’s announcement also means that dozens of frontline workers who were brave enough to keep showing up daily at Three Rivers to care for residents may face job loss,” they wrote.
They argued that this action would likely result in the facility’s closure and that it was not in the best interest of the community.
However, leaders of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living, and LeadingAge said in a statement that they support DPH’s decision.
“Nursing home residents must be our collective priority and we are pledging the resources of our associations to facilitate and assist in the safe and compassionate transfer of residents to nursing homes in the area under these extraordinary circumstances,” they wrote.
They also called this situation “an outlier” and should not reflect how Connecticut nursing homes overall have handled the pandemic.
But nearly three-quarters of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been among long-term care facility residents, who have typically been older and more at risk for illness. Overall, cases have significantly dropped in facilities over the summer.
More than 4,400 people in Connecticut have died from COVID-19 as of Wednesday.