Three years ago, Meredith Phillips’ mother, Georgia Svolos, fell and broke her kneecap, setting off a downward spiral that landed her in nursing homes on and off for a year. In one facility, she fell and broke her knee again, necessitating more surgery. All of the facilities were noisy and chaotic, and one smelled of feces. So, when Phillips learned recently about moves by the Trump administration to ease regulations and fines on nursing homes, she was alarmed. “I’m horrified and frightened,” says Phillips, who lives in Westbrook.
At the Governor’s House Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Simsbury, 17 of the nursing home’s 73 beds sat empty this spring – a 23-percent vacancy rate that would have been unlikely five years ago. The home’s occupancy has fallen despite its above-average health care quality scores in the federal government’s rating system. “There are a lot of factors – a lot of initiatives out there now to keep people out of nursing homes,” said Keith Brown, the home’s administrator. “And with the increase in home care, we’re seeing a more frail resident population. So we have fewer residents, with higher acuity.”
The Simsbury home is not unique: Nearly a third of Connecticut’s nursing homes are less than 90 percent occupied, with Litchfield and Tolland counties bearing the highest vacancy rates, an analysis of state data shows.
Last summer, the state Department of Public Health fined a Danielson nursing home $580 after a resident whose feet were not properly secured to a wheelchair suffered a hip fracture. This January, a Waterbury nursing home was fined double that amount — $1,160 — after an incident in which a resident sustained a cut on the forehead during a fall, while being transferred to a toilet without proper precautions. Similarly, the Lutheran Home of Southbury paid a $615 state fine last spring, after a resident who was supposed to be served a “soft diet” was instead served a meal of ham and carrots and choked to death. Then more recently, in February, the state fined the Paradigm Healthcare Center of Norwalk double that amount — $1,230 — in connection with the death of a resident who choked on food that had been left on a tray at a nursing station. Why the differences in penalties?