HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The state beat its self-imposed clock to test all residents and staff at long-term care and assisted living facilities. The deadline was Aug. 31., which is a notable milestone for nearly 1,400 facilities.
“All [facilites] have completed baseline, universal testing for residents and staff,” said Teresa Miller, secretary of the Department of Human Services, which oversees the assisted living and long-term care establishments and its 127,000 residents.
She noted that nursing homes, overseen by the Department of Health, had previously completed universal testing. The first round of testing is done; protecting PA’s most vulnerable residents is not.
“Covid-19 is still a very real threat,” Miller said. “But we are better positioned now as we head into the fall and flu season with the knowledge and experience we’ve gained in the first six months of this pandemic.”
The first six months have been catastrophic in these senior facilities, however. It is where 67 percent of the state’s fatalities have occurred. Dr. Rachel Levine, PA’s Health Secretary, says the universal testing has proven her suspicions.
“It’s asymptomatic staff that bring it into the facility, through no fault of their own,” Levine said.
But critics say the health secretary is at fault for not reacting more quickly to the virus and the crisis.
Levine rejects that notion. She insists the state didn’t have the knowledge or testing at the start of the pandemic that could have protected seniors. “That testing wasn’t available anywhere in the country in March and in April.”
Senior advocates insist, however, that the vulnerable population is still not as safe as it could or should be.
“Baseline testing is important, but that doesn’t stop a staff member from going to a grocery store or hanging out with a family member who hasn’t taken precautions, getting Covid-19, and going back into the building,” said Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, a senior facility advocacy group.
Marles says finding and paying for adequate PPE is still a struggle for facilities.
“These people (seniors) continue to be the most vulnerable,” he said. “Until we have a vaccine or rapid testing, we’re going to have extraordinary costs that facilities don’t have the money to afford.”
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it is investigating Pennsylvania’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
Were mistakes made or crimes committed?
Governor Wolf would only say this, “We’ve learned things. I think we’re doing a better job now than we were and I’m sure two months from now or three months from now I’m sure we’ll be doing a better job than we’re doing now.”
Pennsylvania needs to do a better job of testing its populous. According to Johns Hopkins University, the Keystone State is last in the country in terms of coronavirus testing per capita.