Nursing home and long-term facility deaths account for nearly 70% of coronavirus deaths in Pennsylvania, and critics say the state’s response to the pandemic helped fan the flames.
Spotlight PA, a group of local newspapers working in collaboration, found last week that the state had a plan in March to protect nursing homes and “train nursing home staff on infection prevention protocols, provide personal protective equipment, help identify secluded quarantine areas,” but the plan was never fully implemented.
“This was being touted as the answer to the epidemic,” CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association Zachary Shamberg told the group. “This was the state support we were counting on.”
He added, “I have to believe if these teams had been ready and prepared, we’d be in a much better place than we are today.”
That same month, the state also ordered nursing homes to admit patients with the coronavirus. A group of bipartisan state representatives have proposed a bill to better help patients in nursing homes.
“In many ways, the state has failed those citizens,” state House Speaker Rep. Mike Turzai said. “We have to get this done to save our seniors in these residences.”
In one county, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the state that claimed inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Health have “come nearly to a halt, thereby putting all of the residents … at risk for contracting the coronavirus.”
“Our investigation shows that the Department of Health is not performing legally mandated inspections,” said Bob Daley, an attorney. “We are filing this suit to get a court ordered injunction requiring the state to conduct these mandatory inspections.”
Pennsylvania’s Department of Health also signed a $1 million contract last month to team up with a nonprofit to help guide state officials as they respond to infections at long-term facilities. The state, however, is one of the few in the country that doesn’t have nursing home coronavirus data, according to NBC affiliate WJAC.
Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s health secretary, said the state will begin releasing nursing home data starting next week.
“This effort will give us a clearer picture of the extent of outbreaks in nursing homes, and a head start at stopping them,” Levine said.
David C. Grabowski, who studies nursing homes at Harvard University, told the New York Times last week that nursing home deaths will account for half of the coronavirus deaths across the country.
“It’s in good facilities and in bad facilities,” Grabowski said.
This prediction is already proving true in a handful of states. In addition to Pennsylvania, states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are seeing nursing home deaths account for roughly half or more than half the state’s total deaths.
Conservative lawyer Daniel Horowitz argued last week that state governors failed to protect nursing home patients.
“When you go through the data, it becomes clear that not only are more than half the deaths in most states from long-term senior care facilities, but the percentage of deaths nursing homes compose is growing rapidly every day,” Horowitz said. “It is, therefore, quite obvious why the deaths continue to grow in large numbers, even as the hospitalizations plummet. The majority of the new deaths are increasingly coming from nursing homes, and many of the patients die in the facilities, not in a hospital.”