NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) — The Connecticut Department of Health (DPH) announced Wednesday, the Three Rivers Health Care facility in Norwich will be shutting down and transferring all residents from the facility following an investigation into a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
Officials report the outbreak at the facility back in July infected 22 residents, six staff, and caused the deaths of four residents.
The DPH’s investigation found violations facility-wide “in general infection control practices, staffing, cohorting (grouping together) residents who tested positive, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Recently, the department put a temporary manager in place, Kathrine Sacks. She had until the end of the month to bring the facility up to compliance, but she says, within 30 hours it became apparent that wouldn’t be possible.
The DPH says Sacks “subsequently reported to DPH that the serious, systemic problems still existing at the nursing home were too great to be corrected by the date of September 30, 2020, as required under federal regulations.”
From Sacks’s assessment, DPH officials determined “significant and ongoing difficulties…and failures” and ongoing management and staffing issues.
It said these failures threatened the safety of staff and residents.
The DPH concluded, “the issues at Three Rivers have gone beyond managing an outbreak of COVID.”
DPH Acting Commissioner Deidre Gifford made the decision to issue an emergency order to discharge all residents from the facility immediately and said of the decision, “this is a very rare and serious enforcement action.”
Acting Commissioner Gifford said at a press conference Wednesday, “We recognize this is an extraordinary action…This is a difficult and sad step that we have to take, but the department has concluded that it’s in the best interest of the health and safety of the residents, staff, and families of this facility.”
Senator Cathy Osten added, “What happened here is unacceptable. It is not what we expect from nursing homes and it is not what we expect from care of people who are at-risk here in Norwich.”
One staff member who didn’t want to be identified was emotional when she told reporters, “I just ask that you pray for my coworkers, residents that wherever they go that they’re safe. That’s my biggest concern. Just please God, make sure they’re okay.”
In a statement regarding the transfers, Three Rivers Health Care said:
This is a challenging time for Three Rivers Health Care, our residents, and our staff. Since the initial COVID outbreak, we have been cooperating with the State Department of Public Health to bring our facility into full compliance with state and federal regulations, including the engagement of a Temporary Manager to oversee the facility.
Following an initial assessment, the Temporary Manager concluded that bringing the facility back into substantial compliance within the timeframe mandated by regulatory bodies was not feasible due to a number of concerns, including the absence of critical staff.
Citing the Temporary Manager’s assessment, the Commissioner of Public Health has ordered that all residents be transferred to other facilities that can safely meet their needs. Under these circumstances, we support this order.
Our priority now is acting safely and swiftly to relocate our residents to other homes, working closely with their families and loved ones.– JACC Health Center of Norwich, which operates Three Rivers Health Care
All 53 residents at Three Rivers will be transferred to surrounding facilities.
Those who are COVID-19 positive (seven in the observation unit and 17 in the COVID-19 positive unit) will be quarantined where they are transferred.
Sacks said transferring residents will be done with care and slowly. Less than ten people will be moved per day, and they’ll be talking with families to discuss their choices about facilities.
In a statement Wednesday evening in response to the closure of Three Rivers, the New England Health Care Employees Union blamed the DPH for not stepping in sooner and pointing to their failure to “hold nursing homes accountable.”
We are extremely disappointed that the Department of Public Health was not able to step in earlier and do better to fix the problems observed at Three Rivers in Norwich. After nearly six months working with COVID-19 in Connecticut’s nursing homes, and after thousands of residents have passed away, Three Rivers is another example of DPH’s failure to hold nursing homes accountable.
If the State had done a better job enforcing and ensuring compliance with infection controls and other safety protocols, including but not limited to bringing in an outside manager to take over operations based on the apparent collapse of the previous management, DPH may have avoided the drastic measures that the State has announced today. DPH must do better, much better, to ensure that infection control protocols are enforced at every nursing home in Connecticut.
The reprehensible management behavior observed at Three Rivers may merit discharging patients immediately from the facility. But closing the facility is not the best outcome for residents and their families, for frontline workers, or for the community as a whole. By ordering the immediate evacuation of the facility, the State’s actions will most likely ensure that the facility closes, which will allow the operator to be let off the hook for the irresponsible administrative decisions that accelerated COVID-19 infections.
Residents will now suffer through transfers in the middle of a pandemic. Residents who were cared for by these dedicated workers for years will have to find another place they can call “home” and establish new relationships with staff. 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. While action needs to be taken, we believe there were alternative measures available that would have ensured the safety of the residents and provide for a pathway for the nursing home to fall back in compliance under a new administration.
Connecticut’s two nursing home associations (Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living) and Leading Age Connecticut sent News 8 a statement, as well, supporting the DPH’s decision.
They went on to assure the public that the Three Rivers case is an “outlier situation and that the claims made in this case are not reflective of how Connecticut nursing homes overall have addressed the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Read their full statement below:
Connecticut’s two nursing home associations support the Commissioner of Public Health’s authority and today’s action to protect the health and safety of nursing home residents. Based on the publicly reported information, we have confidence that the Commissioner is implementing her duties in the best interest of the Three Rivers Healthcare residents.
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 or residents to nursing homes in the area under these extraordinary circumstances.
We want to emphasize that this is an outlier situation and that the claims made in this case are not reflective of how Connecticut nursing homes overall have addressed the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been working rigorously with our member nursing homes to assist them in achieving full compliance with the state’s COVID-19 testing and infection control guidance. And we will continue to do so because, while current Connecticut nursing home Covid-19 rates are among the lowest in the nation, the pandemic is not over and we must remain vigilant.”– Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living and Leading Age Connecticut