CT-COVID data shows more care home worker deaths than reported

Data released by the state on Thursday shows that COVID hit nursing home workers far harder than initially reported in the early days of the pandemic.

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

Last week, data showed only five nursing home workers had died from COVID so far.

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

“Caregivers at care homes have sacrificed everything during the coronavirus pandemic, including paying with their own lives and those of their loved ones,” Baril said. “Surviving unionized carers are not surprised to see the death toll of nursing home workers from COVID-related complications is much higher than previously reported by the Department of Health.”

State Department of Public Health spokesman Chris Boyle said data on the additional deaths had surfaced because of “a change in how we now report nursing home data.” He confirmed the 16 deaths between March and June 2020.

“We previously only reported staff and resident deaths through June 2020,” he said. “Now we have a more automated process that includes the total number of deaths since March 2020.”

At the same time, revisions to the data 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 has been revised down to 4,058.

Boyle attributed the change to nursing homes, which edited the data to correct “COVID-related deaths that turned out not to be COVID-related.”

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

“COVID is not gone. COVID is still here and it’s getting worse,” she said. “This new COVID is worse than before. The symptoms are bad. You feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone.”

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

Confirmed COVID cases among residents of Connecticut nursing homes have risen, though not as high as in previous waves, according to state data. DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthan recently described the surge in coronavirus as a “wave” as opposed to a wave.

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

The earlier 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 “wave” has been attributed to both Omicron subvariants 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 at the facility every day.”

Audrey Thompson, a nurse at the Villa of Stamford, said COVID hasn’t been as bad as it was in the early days of the pandemic.

“When it was just starting 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 then.”

Though she said she believes COVID is being better managed and immunizations are keeping the worst of symptoms at bay, Thompson said staffing issues have not been resolved.

“What’s still there is that we don’t have enough people to do the job,” Thompson said.

Bell agreed that there are still staffing issues, with one helper responsible for up to 28 residents.

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

Bell attributed the increase at her facility in part to staffing issues.

“We have an aide who cares for both COVID and non-COVID residents,” she said. “Won’t COVID spread even more?”

“To be clear: this crisis is not over yet. Long-term care workers are still suffering in nursing homes, group homes and in home care settings,” Baril said in a prepared statement. “This industry has been in crisis for a very long time, relying on poverty wages to support our most vulnerable populations and relying on an undervalued workforce that is comprised of a majority of Black, Hispanic and White professional women.”

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