OP-ED: PA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH MUST DO MORE TO PROTECT LONG TERM CARE FACILITY RESIDENTS AND FRONT-LINE WORKERS

As we head into fall, the coronavirus pandemic remains a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens — our long-term care residents and the health care workers who care for them.

Across Pennsylvania, 5,155 residents in long-term care facilities have contracted the coronavirus and died. These deaths account for over two-thirds of all COVID-19 related deaths in Pennsylvania.  With visitation restrictions, inadequate guidance from the Department of Health, and inexcusable PPE supply chain failures, the COVID-19 experience for family and staff in these long-term care facilities has been tragic and heartbreaking.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, nursing home residents represent seventy percent of the COVID-19 related deaths in Luzerne County and fifty-seven percent of the COVID-19 related deaths in Carbon County. As the pandemic was ravaging our long-term care facilities, the NEPA Nursing Home SOS program, a locally driven public-private partnership driven by the AllOne Foundation and Charities and a generous donation from the Earth Conservancy, was established in April to procure and distribute life-saving supplies to 30 facilities in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Carbon and Monroe counties.

Administered by the AllOne Foundation and Charities, the NEPA Nursing Home SOS program includes a planning partnership with the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and LeadingAge PA — two of the leading long-term care organizations in the state. Since its creation, the Luzerne Foundation and the Carbon County Community Foundation have stepped up to help raise money for the program and the counties of Luzerne and Lackawanna joined the effort by contributing a combined $500,000 in CARES Act funding.

With over $1 million raised, the NEPA Nursing Home SOS program has distributed over 460,000 pieces of infection control supplies, personal protection equipment, and symptom screening supplies to local nursing homes to date.

The NEPA Nursing Home SOS program has taken a statewide leadership role in advocating for legislative initiatives, like Act 24 of 2020, which will drive nearly $300 million in critical funding to long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania.

While the Department of Health has since made progress in working to contain the spread of COVID-19 in our nursing homes, there is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done in order to protect our residents and the front-line workers from the impacts of COVID-19.

A recent report spearheaded by Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and eight other organizations provided several recommendations for the Pennsylvania Department of Health to consider to better protect our long-term care residents.

The Department of Health should heed the recommendations made in the report and work in a collaborative fashion with nursing home administrators and members of the General Assembly on ways to better protect our nursing home residents and front-line workers. Our most vulnerable population, their families, and our front-line health care workers deserve a better plan of action from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and more access to resources in this once in a generation fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic.

 

CONTACT:
Carly Simpson: 717-787-7105
Brad Hurley: 570-325-3274