COVID-only recovery center in Meriden reopening for patients, bracing for second wave

New Haven

MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the state, frontline workers in Meriden are gearing up for battle yet again.

The state has asked Athena Health Care to reopen its COVID-only recovery center there, as officials try to prevent a repeat of the spring when the virus ran rampant through nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The bad news? The demand is already here.

Athena said its initial capacity is 30 patients, and they expect to fill those beds within a week.

The good news?

Testing, PPE, staff experience, and tried-and-tested protocols have come a long way since the first wave, and frontline workers are much more equipped to handle this next one.

“You just keep going in the nursing field,” said Director of Nursing Services Nicole Sheehey.

Sheehey will lead the team of frontline workers at Westfield Care and Rehab Center. The hope is to stop the spread and contain any outbreaks within nursing homes as early as possible, with lessons learned from a horrific first wave that saw 60% of the state’s COVID deaths occur among nursing home patients. At that time, the CDC sent staff and the National Guard was called in to assist overwhelmed facilities in Connecticut.

“We would be able to take those patients and hopefully we can keep COVID out of our nursing homes,” said Sheehey. “They can come here, we can keep those buildings, and we can send them back when they’re healthy and ready.”

Westfield has been closed since the end of June as cases fell statewide. Now, it is the first coronavirus recovery center to reopen.

“Several weeks ago the state approached us about reopening the recovery center,” said Tim Brown, Director of Marketing for Athena Health Care, which will run the facility.

“As of last week, there were well over 50 buildings, nursing homes in the State of Connecticut, and assisted livings that have either staff or residents that are COVID positive. In addition to that, we’re starting to hear about surges in hospital settings, as well,” said Brown.

At full capacity, the nursing home can hold 120 patients.

“We already have people calling us, and if we could open today, we’d start seeing patients today,” he said.

Inside Westfield’s spotless hallways, with closets full of PPE, Sheehey and her team are ready.

“I’m hoping to see people get stronger, get better, and test negative and go back to where they come from.”

They expect to admit their first patients on Thursday.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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