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March 31, 2020

Bristol Health’s Barwis is first CT hospital CEO to test positive for coronavirus

HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever Bristol Hospital CEO Kurt Barwis.

Bristol Hospital CEO Kurt Barwis has tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus, making him the first hospital chief executive in Connecticut known to have the virus.

Bristol Health announced the test results to employees on Tuesday morning. Barwis has been working remotely since Friday, after coming down with cold-like symptoms, spokesman Chris Boyle told HBJ shortly after notifying workers. He doesn’t know how he contracted the virus.

“I’ve been talking to him all morning,” Boyle said. “He’s feeling well. He’s running the financial operations of the hospital from home.”

Barwis, who was unavailable for an interview Tuesday morning, plans to be quarantined for at least 14 days.

Boyle said his boss seemed most concerned about spreading the message to employees and the public to continue to practice “social distancing” and frequently wash their hands.

Barwis did a telephone interview last Thursday with HBJ about coronavirus’ financial impact on Bristol Health. The disease is impacting the bottom lines of all Connecticut hospitals to the tune of an estimated $400 million.

During that interview, Barwis expressed confidence that remaining at least six feet away from other people and washing his hands provided a strong measure of protection as he went about his duties.

“If you adhere to the guidelines, you should be safe,” Barwis said last week.

He also firmly rejected the idea that he could wear a protective mask in the hospital, since there’s a shortage of that equipment even for front-line medical personnel. He said it would send the wrong message to patients and staff. 

“What happens if I walk around the hospital with one of those on?” he asked. “I won’t do that.”

On Tuesday, Boyle said the hospital has taken all possible measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19, including banning visitors to inpatient floors and screening every employee who reports to work for fever and other symptoms.

“I think that this really tells you how dangerous this virus is,” Boyle said. “There was no one more strict with taking the precautions than Kurt.”

Boyle said donations of protective equipment have been helping. He picked up 2,000 surgical masks secured by Gem Sensors & Controls in Plainville on Monday, he said.

Barwis’ message to employees Tuesday ended with the following:

“I want to stress that I do feel well physically and will be remotely leading the hospital in respect to operations and finances. Additionally, I am still in contact with the executive leadership group and board leadership on a regular basis throughout the day. The Greater Bristol community is relying on us to care for them during this outbreak. I am confident that because of our proactive planning, that we will defeat this virus. Words cannot describe how proud I am of you; your dedication, passion for caring, empathy towards others and the professionalism with which you do your work—taking care of our community and each other.”

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