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L+M CEO: 'Our' surge due in mid-June

COVID-19 hospitalizations have been declining statewide for several days now — but not in southeastern Connecticut, where they’ve been creeping upward but remain relatively low.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 patient count topped 30 for the first time Wednesday morning, rose to 31 and settled at 29 late in the day, evidence that the growth in the number of coronavirus cases in the region has yet to peak here.

Just last week, the hospital’s COVID-19 population was in the teens.

Backus Hospital in Norwich had 10 patients with the disease Wednesday, while Westerly Hospital was treating four.

“When this started, everyone expected this part of the state to see a bigger surge,” Patrick Green, president and chief executive officer of L+M and Westerly hospitals, said in an interview Wednesday night. “Luckily, we have not. It’s been delayed compared to other parts of the state. Now, as we look at the models, we project we’re going to hit our peak at L+M around the second week of June.”

Green, who joined other Yale New Haven Health officials in a virtual news conference earlier in the day, said the New London hospital eventually could see 50 to 60 COVID-19 patients, including as many as 25 to 30 needing treatment in the intensive care unit.

"We're more than ready," he said. "We have plenty of capacity within our four walls in terms of beds, staff and equipment. We think it's very manageable. We hope it doesn't happen, but if you go back to mid-March, we anticipated a surge that would be a lot higher — and a lot sooner. We were preparing to handle 150% of capacity, a worst-case scenario. Now, we're not going to need alternative care sites, field hospitals and all of that."

Green said L+M and Westerly hospitals have adequate supplies of ventilators and the personal protective equipment worn by health care workers.

He said the region has benefited from being relatively sparsely populated. And, he believes, southeastern Connecticut has been able to postpone and lessen the severity of the disease's surge by diligently practicing social distancing and "sheltering in place." He credited Gov. Ned Lamont for "clamping down on things before they got here."

Separately Wednesday, citing concern for the health and safety of employees and patrons amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mohegan Sun announced it will remain closed to the public through May 12. "Re-opening date options continue to be discussed by working closely with the Mohegan Tribal Council and the State of Connecticut's Governor's Office, and by monitoring federal health and safety guidelines," the casino said. It had closed March 17.

Data released Wednesday by Lamont's office show New London County has recorded 540 COVID-19 cases, just 2% of the statewide total, which climbed to 26,767. Four hundred fifty-five new cases were reported in the state since the previous day.

Fairfield County has had more than 20 times as many cases as New London County.

The 35 New London County deaths associated with the disease represent 1.6% of the 2,168 such deaths in the state.

Lamont also reported Wednesday that 1,691 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state, 41 fewer than the day before.

"It's a positive trend we have seen for over a week. Hospitalizations continue to go down," he said. "And the number of new positive cases — 455 — is a smaller percentage of the number of tests we're performing, so I think this is all relatively good news in terms of what we're trying to accomplish."

Green also noted that nurses from L+M and Westerly continue to help out at Yale New Haven Health hospitals in Greenwich and Bridgeport, which have seen far greater caseloads. He said 39 nurses and other volunteers have covered more than 234 shifts at the downstate hospitals.

Bayview Health Care to admit L+M patients

Bayview Health Care Center in Waterford has agreed to admit recovering COVID-19 patients from L+M, officials said Wednesday in an online conference call with family members.

The nursing home at 301 Rope Ferry Road had 26 COVID-positive residents, plus two who were hospitalized as of Wednesday. Eight have died, and 22 formerly positive residents are apparently recovered and showing no symptoms, officials said.

A report issued by the state on April 17 indicated that 3,423 of approximately 22,000 nursing home residents in Connecticut were infected with the disease. In addition to Bayview, four other nursing homes in southeastern Connecticut have reported COVID-19 cases and deaths to public health officials, including Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center in Niantic, Mystic Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Groton, Harbor Village Nursing Home in New London and New London Subacute Nursing in Waterford. An updated report is expected to be released Thursday.

It was unclear whether other local facilities would be admitting recovering COVID-19 patients. The state Department of Public Health and members of the National Guard are inspecting nursing homes across the state, and are expected to be at Bayview on Thursday.

While the nursing home has agreed to take recovering patients, it had not admitted any as of Wednesday, Director of Nursing Jennifer Sorensen said during the conference call. Any incoming patients would join all other COVID-positive patients on one of two hallways on the second floor.

One resident recently tested positive on the first floor and immediately was moved upstairs, Sorensen said.

Bayview is now closed to admission of anyone who has not tested positive for COVID-19. It has not been designated as a surge facility to take overflow cases, Administrator Kimberly Carlson said. All incoming patients would be in the recovery stage, after they are discharged from L+M but still need therapy and strengthening before they can return home, she said.

Carlson said staffing at Bayview remains consistent, with enough personal protective equipment to keep everyone safe. The housekeeping staff also is at full strength.

Because of the shortage of test kits, only residents showing symptoms are tested, as well as some asymptomatic roommates who could have been exposed through contact, Sorensen said.

On Tuesday, Mike Buscetto III, owner of Filomena's restaurant, delivered soups and fresh fruit to Bayview staff and greeted them outside, along with First Selectman Rob Brule and representatives of Verizon Wireless.

"He (Buscetto) reached out to us and asked what he could do (for) us in this time of need," said Karin Delesdernier, who works in admissions at Bayview. "We very much appreciated it. It really made a big difference."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

k.florin@theday.com





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