By: Don Shaw email: don.shaw@pennsylvaniachronicle.com (570) 543-2961

As Department of Health continues to “think” PA Senators call for widespread testing, provide PPE to slow nursing home resident deaths

As Department of Health continues to “think” PA Senators call for widespread testing, provide PPE to slow nursing home resident deaths
Harrisburg, PA

After the state Department of Health indicated they are continuing to “think” about testing more patients in long-term care communities and distributing additional personal protective equipment, Republican Senators called on Health Secretary Rachel Levine to take immediate action to slow the COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities.

“During our hearing, the Secretary said guidance to nursing homes was first sent on February 3,” said Senator Judy Ward (R-30), chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, which co-hosted the hearing with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Thirteen weeks later – Dr. Levine testified that we are still thinking about how to better test and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our most vulnerable population. Enough is enough. We need action now.”

Maryland and West Virginia have ordered testing for all residents and staff of its long-term care facilities.

During her testimony, Secretary Levine said she would take the idea of expanded testing back to her team. Secretary Levine also said the department has been limited in testing because of a lack of supplies and issues with the federal government. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on April 29 that that commercial laboratories, which have done more than 2.6 million COVID-19 tests, have excess capacity to meet rising demand.

“If the department doesn’t have the testing, why wouldn’t they partner with those who do?” Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) said. “The time for robust conversations is over. The time for action is now. If we can’t do the testing ourselves, we need to partner with those who can.”

About 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania are people who were residents of the state’s more than 1,900 long-term care facilities. According to the Kaiser Foundation, Pennsylvania has three times the number of deaths and two times the number of cases of COVID in long-term care settings than they do in Florida. Florida has also been significantly less restrictive with their closures.

On April 8, Governor Wolf signed an executive order to allow the state to “commandeer” PPE from health care providers and manufacturers and transfer the supplies to another facility as needed. To date, nursing homes continue to beg for this equipment.

“Long-term care facilities are desperate for PPE and universal testing,” Senator Scott Martin (R-13) said. “I beg that you do everything that you can do, everything in your power, to engage these long-term care facilities. We are getting the calls from the family members who have died. These are the grandparents at my sons’ football games. The long-term care facilities are turning to us to engage the volunteer organizations to find PPE for them, because they aren’t getting the help they need from the Department of Health.”

The Senators called on Secretary Levine to further prioritize long-term care facilities in obtaining PPE as a part of a vital effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in this vulnerable community.