Did state policies contribute to COVID deaths in nursing homes? Pa. Senate, grieving families want to know

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — New calls on Tuesday evening to investigate how the Wolf Administration handled nursing homes during the pandemic. Early on, nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. State Senators now want a closer look at Health Department policy.

Brad Swidler last saw his father Norman in his nursing facility just before COVID-19.

“Jan. 26 it was his birthday he was eating cake and ice cream and he was well,” Swidler said.

A few months later, it was drastically worse.

“It was a sight I couldn’t believe,” Swidler said.

Norman survived the Holocaust, but not COVID-19 — one of more than 12,000 deaths in long-term care facilities. Pa. Senators want to know if state policies played a role.

“It is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion and it begs, begs for accountability,” Senator John Yudichak (I-Luzerne, Carbon) said.

Senator Judy Ward (R-District 30) says senior Pennsylvanians were not prioritized.

“The Wolf Administration’s decisions early on show protecting the state’s most vulnerable population was just not a priority,” Ward said.

Specifically, a state Health Department memo that said nursing homes must accept COVID-positive patients. Federal guidance said they can or should.

“We warned against that guidance then and we’ll still denounce it today,” said Zach Shamberg of Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

The Wolf Administration says the “must” sentence is just one sentence. That the full guidance also required nursing homes to have proper safeguards before taking COVID patients. Shamberg admits he told his members that if they can’t admit safely, don’t admit at all — order or no order.

“We were clear with our members if you don’t have the PPE if you don’t have the testing and staffing if you can’t cohort then do not accept COVID-positive patients at risk and it puts care in jeopardy,” Shamberg said.

How many COVID-positive patients did Norman’s facility accept? Did they make Norman sick? Did that memo cost lives? His son would like to know.

“We deserve factual answers. Not political rhetoric or anything like that, but answers as to why?” Swidler asked.

Advocates say there are still thousands of nursing home residents adn staff who have not been vaccinated.

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