HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — New York’s Attorney General recently released a scathing audit suggesting that Governor Andrew Cuomo under-reported nursing home deaths. Pennsylvania Republicans are now calling for a similar probe in this state.
Nursing homes have been coronavirus killing fields.
More than 12,000 of the nearly 24,000 deaths in Pennsylvania have occurred in nursing and long-term care facilities…at least.
“Can we trust our numbers? That’s what I’d like to know,” Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Bradford, Potter, Tioga) said.
Republican lawmakers are suspicious and renewing calls for an investigation into how the Wolf Administration dealt with nursing homes, specifically its policy requiring facilities to accept COVID-positive patients.
“That policy turned out to be horrific,” Rep. Owlett said.
Rep. Owlett pressed the Secretary of Aging on the policy this week in budget hearings. The Secretary responded to Owlett’s questions by saying the Secretary of Health did not consult her colleague on the policy decision.
“People have a right to understand what happened,” Congressman Fred Keller (R-12th District) said.
Fred Keller is among several Pa. Congressmen asking Attorney General Josh Shapiro to get involved.
Shapiro’s office says he’s been looking for criminal wrongdoing by facility operators, “and hopes to make an announcement in the near future.”
But, Shapiro’s office adds, it is not looking at state officials or their policies.
“I think it’s disappointing that we’re not looking at an all-inclusive, comprehensive study of what happened so we can fix it and move forward,” Congressman Keller said.
Owlett turned to New York’s decision to investigate, and questioned why Pa. wasn’t doing the same.
“New York state has done a deep dive into and investigated what happened there. Why aren’t we doing the same thing here? If not, why not?” Rep. Owlett asked.
Despite reaching out to the Attorney General’s office asking why a broader investigation wasn’t being pursued, the office did not respond.
While they did not respond prior to the publication of this story, the Department of Health released its own statement on the issue on Wednesday evening.
“It’s important to keep in mind what was happening a year ago,” the statement read. “The introduction of COVID-19 into skilled nursing facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences is primarily the result of pre-lockdown exposures and asymptomatic staff transmission.”
The state DOH also recalled how, early on in the pandemic, visitation was exclusively limited to end-of-life situations. Additionally, the statement explained the benefit of having long-term care residents recover from COVID-19 in the facility so as to limit the spread, much like individuals who quarantined in their own homes.
“Once well enough to leave the hospital, these patients returned to their homes – in this case, the facilities where they lived – to complete their recovery under strict instructions to be isolated or cohorted with other COVID-positive patients,” the DOH said.
For COVID-19 patients that required rehabilitation, the rehab facilities were under strict instruction to isolate patients in accordance with guidelines established by the CDC and DOH.
“Many facilities stopped the spread of COVID-19 by following these guidelines and asserting their infection control protocols,” their statement read.
Finally, the DOH noted that the agency did step in and provide resources when officials became aware of the coronavirus persisting in long-term care facilities throughout Pennsylvania.