According to a recent post on PApost.org, Governor Wolf, criticized for nursing home mandates, faces the reality of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes. This has drawn criticism of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in regard to long-term care facilities. Particularly at issue is the Pennsylvania guidance to nursing homes in March to accept residents from hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic, including people who have had COVID-19 or were suspected or confirmed to be infected with the virus.
This guidance, said the state, was informed by the guidelines put forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and stemmed from the intention to maintain hospital bed availability for an anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases.
This directive has drawn criticism from Republicans in the U.S. Congress and the PA State Legislature. In a June 15 letter to Wolf, Republican congressional leaders posited that the policy likely contributed to the surge of virus spread and death within PA nursing homes. In a June 25 letter to PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro and other Republican congressmen from Pennsylvania called the mandate to admit suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients to nursing homes a “deadly policy.”
At the outset of the pandemic in the U.S., it was known that the elderly are the most susceptible population for catching COVID-19 and that swift measures needed to be taken within long-term care facilities to stem the spread of the virus. The rampant spread of COVID-19 in a Seattle area home in March and the death of 68 people from the coronavirus in a single nursing facility in New Jersey in April evidenced how vulnerable nursing home settings are to sweeping infection with the virus. When Pennsylvania released more detailed guidelines in May, hospitals were directed to test patients for COVID-19 prior to releasing them to nursing homes; however, nursing homes were told to accept even positive patients discharged from hospitals.
According to data from the PA Department of Health, as of July 26, the state of Pennsylvania has had nearly 7,125 deaths from COVID-19. Of those deaths, about 68 percent are associated with long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
In response to the criticism, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has defended the state’s response to the pandemic and its measures regarding nursing facilities. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine said no evidence exists that the mandate in itself contributed to high COVID-related deaths in nursing homes. Levine went on to say that typically the virus is introduced into nursing homes via asymptomatic workers.
“To be honest with you, all the states are together in the challenges of this, and it’s going to remain a challenge because you have seniors who are more prone to serious complications,” Levine said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a York County Republican, is calling for the Wolf administration to amend its mandate. States such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Utah have taken aggressive measures to protect nursing homes residents from being exposed by residents positive with the virus. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) suggested that Pennsylvania follow the lead of Florida, which explicitly states in its protocols that homes not take COVID patients unless facilities can properly isolate them.
Protecting Your Loved Ones in Critical Times
It is essential, now more than ever, to be sure that the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or New Jersey nursing home where your loved one lives takes every measure necessary to protect its residents. If you’re concerned about the quality of a Philadelphia/PA or NJ facility during the coronavirus pandemic, or if you suspect neglect or abuse has occurred at the Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, or New Jersey nursing home where your loved one lives, please contact nursing home abuse attorney Brian P. Murphy to discover your legal rights and options.