Did Wolf’s nursing home policy cost lives? Congress is now asking

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa, (WHTM) –It came from the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis and it seeks answers about how the Wolf Administration protected nursing homes during the pandemic. Or, more accurately, didn’t protect those long-term care facilities.

Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) is the Minority Whip and ranking member of the subcomittee. He joined Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) on a Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon.

“Governor Wolf in Pennsylvania forced the nursing homes to take seniors who were Covid-positive from the hospital, back into the nursing homes, even knowing they couldn’t properly take care of them,” Scalise said. “It was a death sentence.”

Scalise said his subcommittee sent similar letters to Democratic governors in New York, New Jersey, California, and Michigan. Along with Pennsylvania, he contends those governors did not follow federal guidelines, which said Covid-positive patients should not be returned to nursing homes that cannot safely accommodate them.

The subcommittee points specifically to a March 18 memo from the PA Department of Health that says nursing homes must accept COVID residents. Scalise insists that memo cost lives by forcing infected patients into homes with vulnerable populations.

PA Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, says don’t blame policy, blame the pandemic.

“Because you have seniors who are more prone to serious complications in congregate settings,” Levine said. “It remains a challenge.”

Governor Wolf insists his administration saw the problem but struggled to stay ahead of it largely because adequate testing was not available.

“It’s been something we’ve been focused on, and worried about since the beginning and I think we’re in a much better place now than we were,” Wolf said.

The numbers are staggering. Of Pennsylvania’s 6,649 COVID-19 deaths, 4,539 of them have occurred in nursing homes or senior care facilities. That’s nearly 70%. Scalise said nationwide the number is more like 42%.

“I think we could have done better,” said Senator Judy Ward (R). Ward is the chairwoman of the Aging and Youth Committee which has held hearing on the issue. She believes the focus and the resources, early on, went to hospitals. Nursing homes and long term care facilities were left wanting.

“When they (nursing homes) started having cases there wasn’t enough attention paid to them and not enough personal protection equipment and the nursing home groups tell us. ‘we begged for PPE and didn’t get it,'” Ward said.

She welcomes the deeper dive by Congress and the state legislature. Her 97-year-old mother is in and nursing home and Ward has lots of questions.

“Why did it happen? What can we do better? How can we be better prepared? How can we serve those most vulnerable in our commonwealth and that’s the nursing homes?”

The Congressional Subcommittee also called for PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the state’s handling of the nursing home crisis during the pandemic.

His office does not seem interested in putting the Wolf Administration under the microscope.

AG Spokeswoman Jacklin Rhoads released this statement, “We have already announced active criminal investigations into several nursing homes alleged to have failed to provide proper care during the COVID-19 pandemic, long before these members took to the House floor. This is a time to take care of people in need and ensure they are protected, not to finger point, and play politics with people’s lives.”

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