The nursing homes across the commonwealth are licensed and under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Tragically, we are seeing a high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths in these facilities. Unfortunately, this is not surprising – senior care facilities serve many elderly residents who have underlying health conditions.
Statewide, while a quarter of positive COVID-19 cases are among those aged 70 and up, nursing homes account for 65 percent of the deaths. My office has been inundated with calls from family members who are extremely and rightfully concerned about their loved ones in these locations. With these statistics, who can blame them?
There is no question that we need to take action to better protect our elderly friends, family members and neighbors.
In our neighboring state of Maryland, an executive order was issued requiring all nursing home residents and staff to be tested for COVID-19 regardless of symptoms. Maryland has also created “strike teams” consisting of National Guard members, health officials, doctors and nurses who respond to serious outbreaks and “bridge teams” that support additional staffing needs of facilities in crisis.
In Connecticut, the National Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been called in to assist the Department of Health in inspecting and reviewing all of the state’s nursing homes to curb the spread of the virus.
Nursing home staffs across the state continue to bravely battle this virus on the front lines day after day. I value and thank those who continue to put their own health on the line every time they go to work. Therefore, I am insisting that we must do more to help them protect the residents of nursing homes, stop the spread and save lives.
In addition, I plan to introduce legislation that calls for shifting the licensing, inspection and supervision of nursing homes to the county level in counties that have public health departments (such as Chester County, in my Senate district). In this way, more immediate action can be taken to swiftly and urgently respond and mitigate potential outbreaks.
For instance, in Chester County, the Pocopson Home, which is under county jurisdiction and has been conducting widespread testing, has only had one fatality due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, at the state-run Southeastern Veterans Center in East Vincent, also in Chester County, nearly 30 lives have been tragically lost to this virus.
As COVID-19 continues to run rampant there, residents and families have struggled to get reliable information and answers. Recently, state and local officials called for an investigation into the center’s response to the pandemic.
The time to act is now. We must do more to protect our elderly residents and enhance emergency support and resources for nursing homes and staff in the ongoing battle against this virus. Our senior care facilities deserve priority because they serve the greatest number of at-risk individuals and they fill a vital need in our health care infrastructure. It’s high time that Pennsylvania brings its efforts and protocols in line with what other states are doing to fight this virus and save lives.
Any further delay is unacceptable.