Feature   Defense News

Connecticut Guard Teams Up With State Officials to Inspect Care Facilities

July 31, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE TECH. SGT. TAMARA DABNEY

The Connecticut National Guard has teamed up with the Department of Public Health to inspect nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state as part of Connecticut's COVID-19 pandemic response efforts.

Long-term care facilities have been hotspots for COVID-19 infections. The guard and the DPH are surveying all long-term care facilities in Connecticut to ensure adherence to COVID-19 guidelines as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Support from the guard has enabled the DPH to inspect a greater number of long-term care facilities more frequently. The collaboration is part of Connecticut's continued effort to combat the spread of the virus.

Soldiers getting fitted for a Tyvek suit.
Suit Fitting
Air Force Master Sgt. Vitaliy Gorbachyk of the Connecticut Air National Guard gets fitted for a Tyvek suit in preparation for a safety inspection at a long-term care facility in Hartford, Conn., July 15 2020t. Teams of Connecticut National Guardsmen and DPH surveyors conducted the inspections as part of Connecticut's COVID-19 pandemic response.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney, Connecticut Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200715-Z-OC517-1037

''These inspections are crucial,'' said Air Force Capt. Gregory Flis, a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Medical Group who manages the guard's involvement in the inspections. ''I've said this to my soldiers and airmen that I've trained, from April to now. What we're doing very much matters to the health and safety of residents, health and safety of staff, and definitely the health and safety of the families and communities around the staff members, because if one part of our infection control chain is broken, it all falls apart.''

In June, Connecticut was one of only two states, along with Rhode Island, to report a decrease in COVID-19 infections. As the number of new COVID-19 infections in long-term care facilities decreased across the state, Connecticut's unified command structure maintained a persistent response in preparation for a possible second wave of the virus. Flis, who works as a geriatric nurse practitioner in civilian life, stressed the importance of holding long-term care facility staff accountable for the safety of Connecticut's most vulnerable population.

''Being in health care, you're well aware of the disparities in health care in these types of facilities,'' Flis said. ''Being able to get boots on the ground and see what these facilities are doing was an intrinsic goal for myself.''

The inspections serve as both preventive and corrective measures of safety during the pandemic. According to Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Melissa Kelly, a member of the 103rd Force Support Squadron who works alongside Flis to manage the logistics of the inspections, the guardsmen have completed more than 1,000 missions in support of DPH between April and July. While on those missions, DPH inspectors have identified compliance issues in both nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have since been rectified.

An airman demonstrates how to put on a Tyvek suit.
Protective Gear
Air Force Capt. Gregory Flis of the Connecticut Air National Guard, left, demonstrates how to wear a Tyvek suit in preparation for long-term care facility safety inspections in Hartford, Conn., June 17, 2020. Teams of Connecticut National Guardsmen and DPH surveyors conducted the inspections as part of Connecticut’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney, Connecticut Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200617-Z-OC517-1033

''The airmen and the soldiers are an extra set of eyes to help the Department of Public Health representative,'' Kelly said. ''They go out to the facilities, making sure that all of the people who work within the facility are following the new COVID-19 guidelines that have been put into place by the CDC. Sometimes we go back with the surveyors to investigate complaints and do infectious control.''

The inspection teams document the number of residents and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 and report the findings to state government officials. All long-term care facilities in the state are inspected regularly.

The guard's involvement in Connecticut's COVID-19 response has been far-reaching, with the Army and Air Guard deploying nearly 1,000 troops since March. In addition to inspections, the guard is providing personal protective equipment and tracking the PPE inventory at each long-term care facility. The effort is part of a push to distribute $91 million of PPE to essential workers throughout the state.

''These nursing homes, at baseline, can have issues with their own inventories, and so that was a big part of it,'' Kelly said. ''We're making sure that they have their own equipment to protect the residents, to protect the staff and to protect the staff’s families when they go home.''

Air Force Master Sgt. Vitaliy Gorbachyk, a member of the 103rd Force Support Squadron who conducted 40 inspections, said the pandemic is unlike anything he has ever faced. The experience was different, because the last time we faced a pandemic of this magnitude was 100 years ago, Gorbachyk said.

Soldiers getting fitted for a Tyvek suit.
Tyvek Suit Fitting
A Connecticut Army National Guard soldier gets fitted for a Tyvek suit in preparation for long-term care facility safety inspections in Hartford, Conn., June 17, 2020. Teams of Connecticut National Guardsmen and DPH surveyors conducted the inspections as part of Connecticut's COVID-19 pandemic response.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney, Connecticut Air National Guard
VIRIN: 200617-Z-OC517-1032

Despite a previous lack of familiarity with pandemic response, Gorbachyk was able to apply relevant skills during the inspections from his ServeSafe training for food safety, which he attained while in the guard, to effectively support the DPH.

''Part of our training is a ServeSafe certification to work in the [dining facility],'' Gorbachyk said. ''It goes through different pathogens, like cross contamination, and all this training definitely helped us during this mission to make sure everybody’s safe.''

Kelly said the mission is expected to continue through August and possibly the fall, if deemed necessary by state officials. For now, she said, she wants the family members of Connecticut's long-term care facility residents to know that the guard and the DPH are doing what they can to keep their relatives safe.

''To the family members, we're out there trying to really minimize the spread of this awful virus,'' Kelly said. ''We hope that they can see their loved ones soon and that we can return to a safer environment. Keep being hopeful, and communicate with your family as much as you can, and know that we're doing what we can.''

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney is assigned to the 103rd Airlift Wing.)