HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some big changes are expected at Connecticut nursing homes in the coming months.
From mandatory two-month supplies of personal protection equipment and full-time infection specialists to the ability for residents to have cameras in their rooms, lawmakers passed multiple bills during the regular legislative session that wrapped up on June 9.
The changes attempt to address some of the deficiencies in long-term care facilities, many long-standing, that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. They increase mandatory direct care from at least 1.9 hours per resident to three hours, make changes to emergency planning, strengthen the “bill of rights” for residents and set aside additional funding for nursing homes, including for capital improvements and pay increases and bonuses for workers.
Once signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, many of the provisions are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, or even sooner.
“We are thrilled that these long-fought-for reforms, many of which have been part of the conversation pre-pandemic, are now going to become law. Nursing home residents, families and staff have been through so much,” said Nora Duncan, state director of AARP of Connecticut.
Nursing homes in the state were hit hard and early by the pandemic. As of June 8, there have been 3,882 COVID-19-associated deaths among nursing home residents — most occurring earlier in the pandemic and before vaccinations became prevalent. In the state's most recent release of data, covering June 2-8, there were five confirmed cases among nursing home residents and one COVID-19-related death.
Statewide, there were 8,260 total COVID-19-associated deaths as of Thursday.
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, has been working on issues such as nursing home staffing levels for years. She said she believes passage of the nursing home camera bill, another long-running proposal at the state Capitol, could be one of the most important proposals to pass. It still awaits Lamont's signature.
Cook's father-in-law, a nursing home resident, died from COVID-19. She believes some nursing home residents' deaths can be blamed on the repercussions of COVID-19, such as isolation and not eating enough.
“It would have been great for people to be able to see their loved one and say, 'Oh my gosh, they've lost 10 pounds,'" she said.
Stonington resident Liz Stern was appointed to the state's Nursing Home and Assisted Living Oversight Working Group after advocating on behalf of her late mother, a former nursing home resident. Stern said she's pleased by many of the changes passed during the legislative session, including the new state budget deal allowing a nursing home resident who receives Medicaid benefits to increase their monthly personal needs account from $60 to $75.
But a bill that was supposed to ensure that loved ones designated as essential caregivers are allowed to enter a nursing home at any time — even during a pandemic — gives the facilities too much discretion, Stern said.
“When you look at the language, there are a lot of words but there is really no meat in that bill. None,” she said.
Stern and other family members of nursing home residents are seeking federal legislation now.
Despite the gains made this year, Stern and other advocates said they plan to keep pushing the Connecticut General Assembly for more changes for nursing homes. Duncan and AARP have been urging state lawmakers and Lamont to focus some of Connecticut's remaining federal COVID-19 relief funds on home- and community-based alternatives to nursing homes, which continue to struggle financially with relatively low census numbers.
“The pandemic has never given us more of a opportunity to build what we want as consumers of services and as taxpayers. So, let's take the opportunity," said Duncan. "There's certainly a need for nursing home beds, but there's a lot of ways to do this better, cheaper and the way people want it.”