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UPDATED: DPH investigating COVID-19 outbreak in Norwich nursing home

Norwich — The Connecticut Department of Public Health is investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at Three Rivers Healthcare and Rehabilitation in which one resident has died, the department announced Thursday afternoon.

DPH said 13 Three Rivers nursing home residents were infected with COVID-19, several of whom are hospitalized, and two staff members were infected.

Acting DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford said during Gov. Ned Lamont's Thursday news conference on COVID-19 issues that DPH staff members have been at the Three Rivers home and the department is trying to determine how the virus entered the facility. The state is investigating all aspects of the home's COVID-19 procedures, staffing levels, staff use of personal protective equipment, staff screening and cohorting of residents.

"This unfortunate outbreak underscores the need for all of us to keep our guard up in the fight against COVID-19," Gifford said in a news release on the outbreak. "COVID-19 is still present in our communities and the virus can spread quickly if we do not remain vigilant about controlling the infection."

During the afternoon news conference, Lamont said there has been "aggressive testing" at nursing homes over the past two months. Other than the recent Norwich home's outbreak, statewide, there have been only four infections at 200 nursing homes.

"We're taking a hard look at Norwich, what happened there," he said. "How did that infection get into Norwich? And hopefully we detected that early enough, and we can get the people quarantined."

DPH also is assessing how well the facility complied with Lamont's executive order mandating weekly testing for nursing home staff.

"We have been looking at all of their infection control practices, the process that they’ve been using to cohort or put together individuals with the same infections status," Gifford said. "That’s important. We’re making sure they’re doing that correctly."

Following an investigation, any citations issued to Three Rivers will be posted online, DPH said.

According to National Healthcare Safety Network data for Aug. 5-11, 61 residents were tested and one person's results were positive, and there were no new staff cases. But for Aug. 12-18, 56 residents were tested, 11 had confirmed cases, and one died.

Patrick McCormack, director of the Uncas Health District, expressed condolences for the family of the deceased resident but said he had no information about the individual.

McCormack said he receives positive test results by address and recently received data that there were positive results at the 60 Crouch Ave. address of the nursing home. But the dates listed were for June. He contacted DPH to question the report and on Thursday received the correct information with the August dates for the nursing home cases.

He forwarded the confirmed information to the Uncas Health District board of directors, Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom and City Manager John Salomone.

"It's not good news," Nystrom said Thursday evening. "Very sad. I don't know what happened. Two staff are sick, one person passed away. Our nursing homes have almost gone unscathed. I don’t know what happened."

"Obviously, I'm very despondent about it," Salomone said Thursday. "We were going so well in the city as far as nursing homes. It's very disappointing to hear this news. It's a sobering thing, and it's why we're so serious in the city about enforcing social distancing and such."

Jesse Martin, vice president of nursing homes for SEIU Healthcare 1199, told The Hartford Courant that the nursing home is understaffed and doesn't have enough personal protective equipment. He also questioned why it took so long to test all of the staff of the facility.

"Workers are concerned that they could catch COVID-19, spread the disease at the workplace and in their homes because the Department of Public Health is not responding properly," Martin said Friday in a statement to The Day. "Testing regimes for nursing home residents and staff must be improved and fully enforced. Nursing home administrators must be educated and​ held accountable in a timely manner for personal protective equipment shortages and protocol violations. This particular facility, as we see in so many other nursing homes, is suffering from critical levels of short staffing."

Front-line "nursing staff are fighting COVID-19 every hour of every day to protect their residents," Martin added. "Their expertise must be valued so we can save lives."

He alleged that DPH "has clearly mishandled the situation at Three Rivers," and added that "we are afraid that this is but one example of the dangers that many nursing home residents and workers are facing in times of COVID-19."

A voicemail The Day left with the nursing home administrator was not returned Thursday evening. A representative on Friday declined to comment but passed along the request for comment to the facility's corporate office.

Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich contributed to this report.

e.moser@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

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