State scrutinizes staff working at multiple senior sites

Photo of Rob Ryser

RIDGEFIELD — To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, state health officials are investigating the practice of nursing staff working at multiple senior living sites.

The investigation by the state health department follows a news report Tuesday that several employees of the Laurel Ridge nursing home in Ridgefield also work next door at Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossing, an assisted-living facility where two former patients have died from COVID-19, and 17 residents are quarantined with the disease.

Connecticut wants to avoid a repeat of the Washington state outbreak, where 35 COVID-19 deaths are linked to a single nursing home.

A federal investigation found that nursing staff working at multiple senior living sites in the Seattle area showed up to work with symptoms and spread the highly infectious respiratory virus to the elderly.

That won’t happen in Connecticut, officials from the two Ridgefield senior living facilities said, because nursing staff are screened before each shift for coronavirus symptoms such as fever and shortness of breath.

The focus of the investigation by the state health department is to be sure those best practices are being followed, a spokesman said.

“We’re investigating,” said the state health department’s Av Harris. “Our facility licensing team is in touch with dozens of nursing homes on a daily basis to assess their infection-control process, and there is daily contact happening between our facility licensing team and the investigations branch which oversees the nursing homes.”

Athena Health Care Systems, which operates Laurel Ridge in Ridgefield and 25 other sites in Connecticut, and Benchmark Senior Living, which operates Ridgefield Crossing and 17 other sites in Connecticut, represent 20 percent of the state’s 213 senior living facilities.

The two residents from an Athena’s facility in Stafford Springs, who have died from the coronavirus, and the two residents from Benchmark’s Ridgefield Crossing who died from the coronavirus, represent 21 percent of the fatal COVID-19 cases in Connecticut.

Connecticut and the rest of the world is at war against a new virus that at the end of the work day on Wednesday had infected 417,000 people and killed 18,500 globally, the World Health Organization said.

There were 54,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 735 deaths late Wednesday afternoon, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

In Connecticut, 875 people have been infected, and 19 have died, the state health department said.

In Ridgefield and across the state, leaders are responding by ordering people to stay in their homes and to be vigilant about hand hygiene. 203-731-3342