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State legislators call on state health officials to inspect Windham nursing home

Several eastern Connecticut Democratic state legislators are asking the state Department of Public Health to inspect the Vanderman Place nursing home in Willimantic, owned by the same for-profit company that owns the Three Rivers Healthcare nursing home in Norwich that the state ordered closed Wednesday, citing major violations that could not be corrected quickly.

State senators and representatives who represent Windham and Norwich issued statements Friday expressing concerns that the same issues — lack of staffing, failure to test staff for COVID-19 and failure to have proper infection controls — could be occurring at the Vanderman Place home, a 124-bed facility at 595 Valley St., Willimantic. The home is owned by JACC LLC, which owns the Three Rivers Healthcare nursing home in Norwich, ordered vacated by the state Department of Public Health on Wednesday.

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Three Rivers nursing home in Norwich has infected 22 residents and six staff, causing the deaths of four residents.

State Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham, said last year, the town of Windham had to pay to remove piles of uncollected garbage at the nursing home, located next door to Windham Hospital. Johnson said she went to the home and saw the garbage after receiving complaints that it was a hazard to the home and to the hospital.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Johnson received calls from workers at the home complaining of lack of personal protective equipment there. She said that was at a time when health care facilities across the nation were having trouble obtaining PPE.

“We know that the pandemic has brought to our attention the weaknesses in all of our health care systems,” Johnson said in the statement. “I join my colleagues in requesting an investigation of this facility, not just because of the mismanagement at The Three Rivers facility, but also because there have been signs for years of things just not being right at the Vanderman Place.”

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, said DPH officials did visit the home on Thursday, the day after acting DPH Commissioner Deidre Gifford signed the emergency order that all 53 residents at Three Rivers be relocated.

Osten said she has heard from union representatives that the Windham home is short-staffed, one of the serious deficiencies found in the Norwich home.

“In light of the recent COVID deaths and infections and the horrible management and staffing problems that were revealed at Three Rivers, we'd like to see the health department conduct a thorough examination of JACC's operations at Vanderman Place," Osten said in the joint news release. “Three Rivers went from zero COVID-19 cases in late July to several deaths and complete closure in a time span of about seven weeks. Let's not wait to see if similar problems develop in Windham. Let's conduct a review and ensure the health and safety of the patients, the employees, and the Windham community."

DPH officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Along with Johnson and Osten, state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, and state Reps. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, and Brian Smith, D-Colchester, whose district includes Windham, joined in the request that DPH conduct an inspection of the Vanderman Place nursing home.

"As Connecticut’s diagnosed positive cases are on the uptick, we need to be vigilant about following guidelines and protocols, especially within our nursing homes,” Flexer said in the news release. “If Vanderman Place, like Three Rivers, is found to not be following state and federal mandates to keep employees and residents safe, we need to act swiftly to avoid future tragedy. An inspection now may save the lives of residents, staff, and our community members in the future.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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