The state’s chief medical examiner said Wednesday some nursing homes are not reporting deaths that could be associated with the disease.
“Not all nursing homes have been reporting their suspected or confirmed COVID-19 deaths to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner,” said Dr. James Gill. “They are required to report them and have been repeatedly reminded by the DPH (Department of Public Health), but some still do not report.”
The chief medical examiner said the lack of reporting has meant his office has to investigate and attribute deaths to COVID-19 through the state’s vital records office, and through funeral directors when they receive a death certificate for a person’s remains to be cremated.
“Nursing home deaths that are not reported to us can be very time-consuming,” Gill said. “This is because we then have to track down medical records or speak to the treating physician to get clinical information. We sometimes also need to perform a swab to test for COVID-19.
“There is an investigation of each of these deaths because although a person may have a positive COVID-19 test, it does not mean that the person died of it,” he said.
On Tuesday, an official overseeing Kimberly Hall North in Windsor confirmed 35 deaths among residents at that facility. Data on coronavirus infections and deaths released by Gov. Ned Lamont’s office on April 16 showed only nine deaths among residents at that facility, raising questions about the accuracy of the entire statewide count.
Av Harris, a spokesman for DPH, said because the data had been collected two days before it was released there may have been more fatalities in the intervening time.
He said health officials have received “new guidance” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructing them to classify a death as COVID-19 related “if the preponderance of the medical evidence points in that direction” even without a confirmed test.
“So that means many deaths that may not have been previously reported as COVID-19 may now get reclassified as such,” Harris said.
New data on cases and deaths at specific nursing homes are expected to be released Thursday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Genesis HealthCare said the company has been “fully transparent and forthcoming in sharing information with patients, residents and families.”
“...We believe the data the DOH is sharing is only for residents who have officially tested positive, plus deaths,” said Dr. Carolyn Blackman, senior vice president of medical affairs for the Pennsylvania-based health care company. “We share with families and the DOH both the number of confirmed positive cases and presumed positives, as well as deaths, because we believe this presents the most accurate picture.”
She said to date, 58 residents and an additional 28 staff members have tested positive or are believed to have the disease.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by COVID-19, especially the families of the 35 residents who have passed away,” Blackman said.
As of Wednesday there had been a total of 387 resident deaths in homes represented by the New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199 SEIU, said spokesman Pedro Zayas. He estimated that by the time the state releases updated figures on deaths in nursing homes later this week, the number will likely be over 700 and represent about 50 percent of the overall COVID-19 deaths in Connecticut.
The union represents about 30 percent of the 215 nursing homes in the state.
No state agency is tracking how many health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 or how many have died from the disease, Zayas said, but by the union’s count, one dietary aide at Kimberly-Hall North died of COVID-19.
Three other nursing home workers have also died, including a former union member in Milford who left the organization when she became a licensed nurse practitioner, he said.
Zayas said that any time tragedy strikes it usually disproportionately impacts low wage workers, such as health care workers in nursing homes who are predominantly female, people of color and immigrants.
“The lower-end nursing assistants historically are low wage,” Zayas said. “They are also serving poor people who are in homes. The residents of Kimberly Hill are probably some of the poorest in the state.”