‘What’s going to be the last thing she remembers? Absolute silence and blackness’: Family demands answers from Colchester nursing home with COVID-19 outbreak

New London

COLCHESTER, Conn. (WTNH) — News 8 has been closely tracking a COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened the majority of patients at a Colchester nursing home. Now, the family of a Harrington Court nursing home resident speaks only to News 8 to tell us their loved one is among those infected. A family spokesperson alleges Harrington Court never informed them about the extent of the outbreak.

“None of us knew how bad it was at Harrington. Until we started seeing it on the news,” said Melissa Weinberg.

Her grandmother, 90-year-old Joan Williamson, tested positive on September 24, a week after the state Department of Public Health (DPH) says it was notified of the first positive patient.

DPH has since cited Harrington Court for what it calls infection control deficiencies, discovered over a series of state visits that began on September 18. Last week, Harrington Court’s parent company, Genesis HealthCare, confirmed to News 8 that they had been cited and said they have enhanced staff training and have submitted a corrective plan with the state.

The last available numbers show 70% of Harrington Court patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19, along with a dozen staff members. Five residents have died.

RELATED: Colchester rehab center facing second COVID-19 outbreak, 5 resident deaths

Weinberg says she and her family want answers,  but claims she’s had difficulty reaching anyone at the nursing home.

“Nobody answers the phone. I called [Thursday] 16 times and the phone just rang and rang and rang,” said Melissa. “I want to know how it happened. I want to know what they were doing to prevent it.  I want to know why, if things were that bad, why we weren’t notified.”

When News 8 brought these concerns to Genesis HealthCare, a spokesperson wrote to us that all primary family contacts were notified the very night the first resident has tested positive, and have been kept informed via regular Zoom calls.

Following her COVID diagnosis, Williamson began having difficulty breathing, and doctors determined she has pneumonia, according to her family.

Weinberg says Williamson is now in hospice care at Harrington Court, and the family is preparing themselves for her passing. They want to know what’s being done so no other family goes through what they’re experiencing.

“Trying to make people be held accountable. It’s an insane time in the world right now, but these are people, they still need love and attention and care,” said Weinberg.

Because of the outbreak, in-person visits are not allowed at Harrington Court. Williamson has eyesight and hearing problems, and Weinberg is devastated no family members can be by her side to hold her hand.

“What’s going to be the last thing she remembers? Absolute silence and blackness. She can’t hear anything, she can’t see anything and that’s how she’s going to pass on. It’s not fair,” said Weinberg.

Genesis HealthCare tells News 8 in a statement that Harrington Court has made staff available to family members any time day or night.

RELATED: COVID-19 outbreak at Harrington Court rehabilitation center in Colchester

Genesis’s full statement:

“At Harrington Court, we believe communication with patients, residents and their families is extremely important, especially during this pandemic. While I cannot speak to the details of any one particular patient or family due to HIPAA privacy laws, we personally contacted the primary family contact for every resident the night we had our first confirmed COVID-19 positive case. We also invited families to participate in a Zoom call held the next day to discuss the outbreak and answer family questions.  Prior to the outbreak, we conducted Zoom calls every Wednesday and we have continued to host family Zoom calls three times per week during the outbreak. With that said, not all families choose to participate in these Zoom calls, but they are one of the best ways to obtain the latest information. Finally, our Center Nurse Executive has given out her personal cell phone number to all families so they can call any day, at any time, for a clinical update. 

As this pandemic continues, we remain stringent with restrictions and a whole host of other precautions. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began providing protocols and guidelines for the coronavirus, we have diligently followed them and in many cases, have gotten out in front of public health guidelines, adopting even more stringent infection precautions than were recommended at the time. We also continue to follow the direction of the Connecticut Department of Health in an effort to contain and minimize the spread of the virus.  

-Some of these steps we have taken (and a full list can be found here):     

-Screening residents and patients for symptoms – three times daily       

-Actively screening and taking temperatures of all staff upon building entry        

-Requiring all staff to wear personal protective equipment 

-Visitation restrictions

-Cancellation of all outside medical appointments except for medically necessary, time-sensitive, and life-saving treatments, such as dialysis and chemotherapy

-To make things easier for families, we have implemented the ability for families and loved ones to perform video conferencing calls using Zoom technology

-We have notified patients, residents, and families and update them via regular video conference calls.”

Statement from Genesis HealthCare

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

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