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Son of COVID-19 patient fears his mother will die alone

Andrew Romanofski's 81-year-old mother is being treated for COVID-19 at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, and he talks to a nurse every other day about her condition.

Ana St. Germain was the first patient at the Bayview Health Care Center nursing home in Waterford to be diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. So far, she's in stable condition, her son said, but he worries.

"The coronavirus has a nickname," Romanofski, 62, of Ledyard, said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "It's the 'Die Alone Death.' I can't see her. I can't hug her. I can't talk to her. Right now, she's stable. I have a little bit of hope."

Nursing homes and hospitals are not allowing visitors in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Romanofski said the coronavirus was brought in to his mother at the nursing room, since she is paraplegic and can't go anywhere. At first, he said, everybody suspected that his sister, Ana Swink, also a patient at Bayview, infected his mother. Swink is the only resident who leaves the facility three times a week, for chemotherapy and dialysis treatments. But Swink, who also spoke with The Day on Wednesday, tested negative for the virus and remains at Bayview.

Current and former Bayview staff members said they had been asking for personal protective equipment for weeks, but it was only provided after the first confirmed case of the coronavirus. During a conference call with residents' family members on Monday, the nursing home's administrator, Kimberly Carlson, said Bayview had six cases of the disease, and that one of the residents with the disease, who had been in hospice care, had died.

Updated figures of confirmed cases at the facility were not immediately available Wednesday.

During a virtual news conference via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon, Rob Baril, president of Local 1199 of the SEIU union for health care workers, said residents of 80 of the state's 215 nursing homes are infected with the virus, and that 81 nursing home patients have died from the disease it causes. He said 500 nursing home employees statewide either have the disease or are quarantined at home with suspected cases. During the conference call, nursing home workers from around the state spoke about working in facilities without adequate protective gear, and the union showed a photograph of one nursing home employee who had fashioned a protective suit out of trash bags.

Bayview employees are not members of the union.

During Gov. Ned Lamont's daily coronavirus news conference Wednesday, Barbara Cass, chief of health care quality and safety for the state Department of Public Health, said the state is in the process of converting 2,000 empty nursing home beds for COVID-19 patients, and is working with nursing homes that have positive cases on issues related to infection control, staffing and personal protective equipment, or PPE. She said DPH has surveyors going to nursing homes to ensure they have adequate supplies of PPE, and that the department would soon be releasing the number of COVID-19 cases at each of the state's nursing homes.

Cass said two nursing homes have been converted to COVID recovery facilities, including one in Fairfield County owned by Athena, owner of Bayview and 21 other nursing homes in Connecticut. Other sites for COVID-19 patients, or those recovering from the disease, have been identified in Torrington, New Canaan and Sharon.

Meanwhile, Romanofski said he is constantly thinking about his mother at L+M. He said he doesn't think she requires a ventilator right now.

"It sounds like she's just not really feeling good," he said. "Her bones ache, like a flu."

He said his mother had hip and knee surgery and was in a New London nursing home prior to being transferred to Bayview. He said she is nonverbal, can barely hold a cup of coffee, and needs help to sit up. He was happy with the care she was receiving at Bayview, and said that at this point, he doesn't blame the facility for the fact that his mother has the disease.

"I think it's just the situation at hand," Romanofski said. "There might be a slip-up there, but everybody's just confused about what's going on. I'm just afraid for her. I'll cross my fingers on that one."

Bayview administrator Carlson did not return a phone call seeking comment. Timothy Brown, spokesman for Athena Healthcare, also could not be reached to comment.

Speaking by phone from her room on the second floor at Bayview, St. Germain's daughter, Swink, said the facility seems short-staffed. She said meals have been served late and that the facility is not being sanitized as much as she would like.

Swink said her mother had a fever and had been coughing for as long as two weeks. She said she learned St. Germain had COVID-19 by overhearing a conversation in the hallway outside her room.

"I said, 'That's my mom,'" she said. "The girl said, 'We were going to talk to you eventually." I said, 'When, next year?'"

k.florin@theday.com

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