Pennsylvania House Aging and Older Services Committee Chairman Gary Day (R-Lehigh/Berks) Thursday in Harrisburg hosted an informational meeting so legislators could hear from industry experts about the unique challenges COVID-19 is placing on nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the Commonwealth.
“We want to look for ways to ensure older Pennsylvanians and the people who care for them have the tools they need during this pandemic,” Day said. “We are talking about our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who cared for us when we were young. Now it’s our turn to care for them.”
Recent statistics obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) counted 3,106 Pennsylvanians who at that point had passed away due to COVID-19. The average age of Pennsylvanians who passed away as a result of the virus was nearly 80 years old. DOH reported 2,108 of the 3,106 people who died were living in nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences. That translates to nearly 68% of Pennsylvanians who passed away as a result of COVID-19 were living in one of these types of settings.
There are approximately 123,000 residents in Pennsylvania’s nursing facilities, assisted living residences, and personal care homes. Nearly 80,000 Pennsylvanians live in one of the state’s nearly 700 nursing homes. There are 1,143 personal care homes and 58 assisted living facilities in the Commonwealth. There are approximately 143,000 long-term care workers in Pennsylvania.
The numbers and the size of the issue were alarming, which is why Day convened the informational meeting to hear from experts.
State Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield/Elk) is a major in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and serves as a medical plans and operations officer. Gabler testified on a panel with two other participants about the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s role in the response to the pandemic. He was joined by Lt. Col. John Peacock, a medical corps officer with the state medical detachment, and Maj. Nathan Snee, a medical plans and operations officer with the 193rd Special Operations Medical Group. They talked specifically about the guard’s role with site inspections at senior living facilities.
Deborah Brodine, who serves as president of UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, testified before the committee, noting UPMC senior communities have to this point not had a single COVID-19 case at any of its 29 facilities. She shared some suggestions from her organization’s success, pointing to practices like screening employees, restricting visitors, engaging in social distancing and the importance of access to enhanced testing.
Chase Cannon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Affiliated Health Care and Living Communities, testified about the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies.
William Johnston-Walsh, state director of AARP Pennsylvania, testified about the importance of testing for the virus, PPE for staff and residents, and concern about staffing shortages. He also brought up concerns related to the lack of virtual visitation tools to connect nursing home residents with their families and loved ones.
“Our committee members want to understand the issues affecting the health of our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians and we owe it to them to seek out future policies, practices and laws that will keep them safe,” Day said.
The committee is scheduled to hold another informational meeting on Friday at 3 p.m. to further discuss the effects of COVID-19 on long-term care facilities.
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