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Pandemic hit on nursing homes is a tragedy and a fight, not a scandal

I am writing in response to your April 25 editorial, “COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes a scandal.” The death toll is a tragedy of circumstance overwhelming the heroism of healthcare workers throughout Connecticut.

When the British were overrun at Dunkirk, was that failure? I suggest not. They were attacked with overwhelming force and at a frenetic pace never seen before.

What about the Alamo? Did Jim Bowie and Daniel Boone fail there? What of the heroism at Masada that has been hailed through the centuries since? Connecticut nursing homes have been assaulted by this virus in a way we have never seen before. Even the best prepared have fallen.

Medicine is not like physics where an equation dictates an outcome. Medicine is a decision tree that you navigate with the knowledge you have at hand. The challenge is that the tree has an endless series of branches and you cannot know every limb.

Nursing homes have disaster plans for a variety of eventualities ranging from tornado, loss of utilities, nuclear disaster and yes, pandemic. We plan, we model, we drill, and we equip ourselves with the supplies that our training and experience tell us we need — but there are no guarantees. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Note that he said “favors,” not “guarantees” and that it is subject to chance, or luck.

My family has roots in the nursing home profession since the 1950s. I have been doing this work, working from the bottom up, since 1987. In living memory or in the oral history of three generations of my family, we have never seen the likes of COVID-19’s attack on our residents and co-workers. Whether you are a 5-Star or 1-Star nursing home, it attacks. It needs only a slight opening to get in and then the havoc begins.

Yes, there is a shortage of personal protective equipment, but not in every home. Yes, there is a shortage of testing, but not in every home. Kudos to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London for being a great partner in our community and turning around tests faster than we could have hoped when we have needed them.

Yes, not every nursing is exemplary and brilliant, but this disease has attacked nursing homes along every spectrum of quality and won.

To apply the broad brush of failure and scandal to people who are dying to beat back this enemy is an insult to their effort and the effort of everyone associated with Connecticut nursing homes. I fall into what has become a very small category. Owner/operator/administrator all at the same time. I sit as a member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities, encompassing nearly 75% of Connecticut nursing homes. I can attest without hesitation to the effort of every nursing homeowner in Connecticut that we have done whatever we can and will do whatever it takes to win this battle. I am also a working nursing home administrator, literally on the front lines of this fight. I see firsthand the sweat and tears of the finest people one could ever hope to work with.

I will break the mold even further and defend the bureaucracy that we are often at odds with, the State of Connecticut. Its response has exceeded my expectations in nearly every way possible. State officials have been partners, not dictators, in this fight. Indeed, we may make strange bedfellows, but we are in this together. Their growing financial support is critical to winning this war.

There is no scandal here. There is a fight that needs to be won. We don’t need recrimination; we need to work as a team to get through this fight. There will be time enough after this is over to debrief and to analyze what we all could have done better.

Bill White is the president and administrator of Beechwood Post Acute and Transitional Care, 31 Vauxhall St., New London. 

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