WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases are prompting calls for more assistance and resources for nursing homes and long term care facilities.
The people Eyewitness News spoke with say the numbers don’t lie. Cases are surging in many nursing homes and other long term care facilities. At the same time, they say other numbers have to be improved as it pertains to resources, both PPE’s and financial help, from the federal and state governments.
“The federal government and the state government need to step up to help nursing homes. They are the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two-thirds of the COVID deaths here in Pennsylvania are nursing home residents,” Sen. John Yudichak- (I) 14th District said.
State Senator John Yudichak is sounding the alarm. He is one of the most vocal advocates for nursing homes and long term care facilities. Just this week he sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Health Department raising concerns about the spike in COVID-19 cases in nursing homes in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“There’s not a lot of clear guidance, good guidance in terms of mitigation efforts. I’m very concerned how they treat. Currently under Pennsylvania guidance they are forced to take a COVID patient from a hospital setting. We need to have a mitigation quarantine plan in place,” Yudichak said.
Zach Shamberg is president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Healthcare Association, which represents more than 400 nursing homes and long term care facilities in the commonwealth. He says funding, or lack of funding, remains an issue.
“We have asked state lawmakers, we have asked our lawmakers in Washington D.C. to again prioritize long term case as it relates to funding assistance related to any stimulus that comes from the federal government,” Shamberg said.
Congressman Dan Meuser tells Eyewitness News that funding maybe available sooner than later. “I’m on the problem solving caucus. We presented almost a trillion dollars funding package on Monday. It will cover much for the hospitals, for businesses, for schools, and nursing homes,” Meuser said.
Meuser admits it’s been a challenger to get a stimulus package approved. But he’s optimistic that it will happen this time around.
The department works to assist any facility dealing with an outbreak, with an outbreak defined as one or more cases of the virus.
Editor’s Note: Since the airing of this story, the Department of Health provided a response to Eyewitness News’ questions.
“The Wolf Administration has taken a three-pillar approach to protecting the vulnerable residents living in nursing homes and other long-term living settings:
• Ensuring resident safety through testing, education and resources;
• Preventing and mitigating outbreaks; and
• Working in partnership with state agencies, local health departments and long-term care facility operators.
The Wolf Administration has provided long-term care facilities with the resources and expertise in order to prevent or control existing outbreaks. This include:
- Appropriated $245 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds for nursing homes, $50 million for assisted living and personal care homes and $275 million for the Regional Response Health Collaborative Programs, or RRHCPs.
- Providing direct support through Regional Response Health Collaborative Programs; Pennsylvania Department of Health’s (DOH’s) Healthcare Acquired Infections (HAI) team; DOH infection control contractor ECRI; the Patient Safety Authority; General Health Resources; and the Pennsylvania National Guard, including advocating for an extension of National Guard support moving forward.
• Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) regularly to facility operators, as well as education and training on how to safely put it on and take it off;
• The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) coordinates closely with the DOH as they evaluate various types of support that may be needed at facilities across the commonwealth. Once specific needs are identified, PEMA works with agencies, such as the Pennsylvania National Guard, to provide the support needed as quickly as possible.
• Regularly inspecting facilities and responding to every complaint filed with DOH;
• Creating rapid response strike teams using the state’s staffing contract with nurses to staff the facilities in need;
• Providing virtual mental health services to facilities through the Department of Human Services’ medical reserve corps;
• The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teams provided on-site assistance for 13 long-term care facilities using their infection prevention and control expertise and training of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) teams
• Sharing information through bulletin boards, nursing home associations, and our normal channels of communication such as Health Alert Network messages; and
• Prioritizing nursing homes and long-term care facilities to receive PPE, and for testing among symptomatic individuals.
The Wolf Administration has distributed close to 7.2 million N95 masks, close to 4.4 million gowns, close to 7.8 million procedure masks, close to 11 million gloves, more than 4 million face shields and more than 1.5 million bottles of hand sanitizer to those in need of PPE across the state.
Additionally, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Vaccine Crisis Committee developed an initial vaccination plan that outlined the vaccine being administered in a phased approach, including healthcare workers and long-term care facilities being the top priority for vaccination. The Department of Health is reviewing and updating our plan to reflect current federal recommendations. We look forward to sharing updates as plans continue to formalize.
An executive summary of the vaccination plan can be found on the Department of Health’s website.”