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

Bipartisan PA House members introduce the Bipartisan ‘Senior Protection Act’ to safeguard over 123,000 At-Risk Seniors

Bipartisan PA House members introduce the Bipartisan ‘Senior Protection Act’ to safeguard over 123,000 At-Risk Seniors

Harrisburg, PA

Responding to published reports and released data regarding COVID-19 deaths occurring among Pennsylvanians living in the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Reps. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny) and Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) introduced legislation (House Bill 2510) today to help these facilities  safe.

“Protecting our most vulnerable citizens is the top job of government during the COVID pandemic, and thanks to the lack of state action, it has become an urgent situation,” Turzai said. “The Senior Protection Act, developed by medical experts, is a data-driven direct response to the COVID-19 crisis here. Senior adults, many with underlying health issues, deserve to live in facilities following the best medical practices, and their families deserve the peace of mind.” 

According to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, there are approximately 123,000 individuals living in 697 nursing facilities, 1,143 personal care homes and 58 assisted living residences throughout Pennsylvania. These facilities employ 143,000 people.

As of yesterday, according to the Department of Health, there are 11,801 resident cases of COVID-19 and 1,655 cases among employees, for a total of 13,456 at 540 distinct nursing and personal care facilities in 44 counties. 

As reported by the Department of Health yesterday, Pennsylvania has had 3,731 deaths attributable to COVID-19.  Of those 3,731 deaths, 2,552, or 68%, were citizens who lived in a nursing home or personal care home. In the Speaker’s home county of Allegheny, 94 of the 123 deaths occurred among residents of those facilities. That means 76% of those who have died of COVID-19 in Allegheny County lived in a nursing home or personal care home.

To ensure consistency of programs, response, and study of clinical and public health outcomes, the legislation is designed to establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private-partnership approach of regional health system collaboratives. These health collaboratives would administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities. 

Speaker Turzai says he hsa worked with UPMC experts to develop this plan to protect those most vulnerable to COVID-19.  In fact, UPMC experts prepared, at the Speaker’s request, a prototype for southwest Pennsylvania and developed a construct for the entire state, much of which is embodied in his legislation.

“I was impressed to hear and understand the medical experts’ enthusiasm for the Senior Protection Act,” Readshaw said. “The theme of control and protect the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living centers must be encouraged by everyone. We must protect the seniors in these facilities as we challenge the COVID-19 virus. Seniors need the assurance that they are in a healthy and safe environment.”

“I want to thank Speaker Turzai for putting this measure forward,” said Kortz.  “UPMC physicians Dr. Nace, Dr. Gladwin, and their team are to be congratulated for drafting an excellent and much-needed plan to address the COVID-19 outbreak at nursing homes and personal care facilities.” 

The legislation will also provide an appropriation of $500 million from Pennsylvania’s allotment of $3.9 billion in COVID-19 money from the federal government. 

An important component of the legislation, according to the Speaker is a decision to use the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) to distribute the funds to these academic health systems. The key to use of these funds is to get the funding into the hands of the private sector entities that can best implement and manage protocols, personnel, testing, data collection, quarantining, cohorting and oversight in a prompt, flexible and innovative manner.  

The money would be appropriated to the CFA for distribution to the health collaboratives. The CFA would divide the state into regions delineating all of the facilities within the parameters of a region.  

After receiving proposals, the CFA would contract with health collaborative administrators (which must be academic health systems) to operate, manage and administer the program in each region to protect residents in these facilities from COVID-19.