(Adds details from report, comment from governor)
By Nathan Layne
WILTON, Conn., Aug 18 (Reuters) - For-profit nursing homes in Connecticut had significantly more COVID-19 cases and deaths than non-profit facilities, according to an independent inquiry released on Tuesday that shed new light on shortfalls in the state's pandemic response.
Connecticut in June commissioned Mathematica Policy Research to investigate why COVID-19 had taken such a drastic toll on the state's nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and to prepare for a potential second wave in the fall.
Among other findings, the Princeton, New Jersey-based research firm found that for-profit nursing homes had about 60% more cases and deaths per licensed bed than nonprofit ones. It also found larger facilities were harder hit than smaller ones, and that homes serving as part of a chain had worse outcomes.
The interim report did not assess the reasons for the discrepancies, but they will be further studied and fleshed out in a full report submitted to the state by Sept. 30, Patricia Rowan, who oversaw the inquiry at Mathematica, told Reuters.
Connecticut and other northeastern U.S. states such as New York appear to have gained control over the virus, with infection rates among the lowest in the country, reflecting broad adherence to mask mandates and social distancing rules.
But these states - the hardest hit early in the pandemic - are still coming to terms with their failure to prevent the virus from infiltrating nursing homes in February, March and April, and they are scrambling to get ready for the fall when they will have to cope with both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
The inquiry could offer lessons for U.S. Sun Belt states battling a surge in nursing home cases in recent weeks.
More than 3,200 residents of Connecticut nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died from COVID-19, accounting for nearly three quarters of deaths in the state. However, Connecticut's death toll per licensed bed did not differ significantly from nearby states, Mathematica found.
In response to the report, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont issued a statement saying the state made critical decisions that "saved lives" even with "limited scientific knowledge" in the initial months of the pandemic.
He noted the significant drop in cases and deaths in long-term care facilities since June.
Mathematica highlighted some potential flaws in the state's response. For example, it found that Connecticut tended to follow federal guidance rather than "proactively respond" to regional developments, citing the state's universal mask order for healthcare facilities on April 4, which came well after New York issued a similar order on March 13.
Connecticut is the second state to disclose an independent review of its nursing homes during the pandemic. New Jersey has enacted 19 proposals from its inquiry - made public in June - including a requirement that nursing homes report on staff taking sick leave or quarantined to identify future outbreaks.
Among its recommendations, Mathematica said Connecticut should begin work now to expand facilities designated to accept COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals - building on a novel approach it adopted in April to prevent those potentially contagious patients from being placed into nursing homes.
The effort to do that in April came after the state was largely past its peak in cases. This time, the roll out should be made prior to any second wave, Rowan said.
Mathematica also suggested the state rethink a policy under which nursing homes can stop testing residents and staff after two weeks without any new cases. "We are concerned that they may inadvertently miss asymptomatic spread," Rowan said. (Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Will Dunham and Tom Brown)
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