HARRISBURG – In light of Pennsylvania having a COVID-19 mortality rate for nursing home and long-term care residents among the highest in the nation, state Senators Pat Browne (R-16) and Judy Ward (R-30) demanded the Wolf Administration live up to promises to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents.
COVID deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes and long-term care facilities continue to soar past the national average of 38 percent, reaching 60 percent – the sixth-highest in the nation.
“The data and information available suggest the Wolf Administration has not taken its pledges to protect nursing homes and long-term care facilities and their residents seriously enough,” Ward said. “Nursing homes and other facilities need to have the funding and resources in order to navigate this surge in COVID-19 cases.”
The Department of Health issued guidance in March as part of its pandemic response that mandated that patients who tested positive for COVID-19 be returned to their long-term care facilities regardless of the provider’s ability to care for the patient and meet infection prevention mandates. The Department also is in the process of modifying its overall regulations for the industry – a process that began before the onset of COVID-19.
“Any update of the regulations should include input from nursing homes and long-term care facilities and lessons learned from this pandemic in order not to repeat these fatal mistakes in the future,” said Ward, who chaired the Senate Aging and Youth Committee during the 2019-20 legislative session. “We have known since Day One of the pandemic that those who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are among the most susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19. And yet, these facilities have faced some of the most significant operational challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, including struggling to maintain staffing levels and retaining an adequate supply of PPE to meet the rising number of infections.”
Last week, representatives of the nursing home industry sued the Commonwealth, saying that the state illegally withheld $150 million in federal funding, diverting the money into other human services programs. The funding was given to Pennsylvania as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was approved by Congress in March. Negotiations between the Administration and nursing home groups were unsuccessful in resolving the issue.
“Despite our desire for the two sides to reach an agreement to prevent a protracted and costly lawsuit, and our direct advocacy in this regard, it was clear from our conversations that the administration was against settling with the long-term care facilities regardless of the potential for litigation,” said Browne, the Senate Majority Appropriations Committee Chairman.
A Senate hearing in May exposed glaring inadequacies regarding the Wolf Administration’s treatment of nursing homes during the pandemic, including a lack of supplies and testing. As a result, lawmakers approved an additional $692 million in funding for long-term living facilities from the state’s share of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In September, the Senate also adopted Senate Bill 1189, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39) that would require the Secretary of Health to ensure long-term care facilities follow and implement disease prevention and control guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.