A union representing nursing home workers in Connecticut is calling on the state to get them the resources they need to keep staff and residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rob Baril, president of the SEIU 1199 New England, said there is a staffing crisis at more than half a dozen of the 69 nursing homes that union members work in because of the lack of personal protective equipment and the workers are getting ill.
Among the SEIU membership of 6,000 workers, the union believes 500 workers have been diagnosed or are in self-quarantine. Baril is also calling for help from the state cover medical bills for people who are putting themselves at risk.
“There are 81 residents that are confirmed to have passed away in Connecticut nursing homes during the COVID-19 crisis. That’s almost a third of 277 deaths that have taken place statewide,” Baril said.
He said there are 80 nursing homes out of the 213 in Connecticut that have confirmed COVID-19 cases, but they believe there are more.
Baril said there is an “unforgivable” under-resourcing of personal protective equipment in nursing homes and some staff have fashioned their own PPE out of trash bags, paper bags, old rags and painter’s gear as amide a “highly dangerous pandemic.”
State officials said they are communicating with nursing homes multiple times a day and responding to shortages. They added that they are following CDC guidelines for PPE and PPE conservation strategies. Gov. Ned Lamont noted that they have a backlog of orders of PPE and that getting supplies to front-line workers is their first priority.
Officials said that the distribution of PPE will be based on which facilities have more cases of COVID-19 and a greater immediate need for the equipment.
Workers who took part in a conference call on Wednesday said they are reusing PPE, including masks, there are limited numbers of gloves and limited amounts of cleaning supplies.
Another worker said staff and patients are scared and a lot of the nursing home workers are already sick.
Another worker said she had been using a face mask for about a week and they are pleading for proper equipment and adequate staff.
When asked about workers' requests to have their medical bills covered, the governor said they were open to looking how the state could ensure health insurance coverage and other benefits.
There will be two nursing homes dedicated to COVID-19 patients, Department of Public Health officials confirmed. The state is working to move and separate people in nursing homes to prevent further spread of the virus.