Gov. Wolf questioned about March 2020 memo on Pa. COVID nursing home deaths

This Week in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — New calls on Wednesday for an investigation into how the state dealt with nursing homes at the beginning of the pandemic. And abc27 Capitol Reporter Dennis Owens asked Governor Wolf about a memo at the center of the storm.

Early in the pandemic, nearly 70% of COVID deaths were in nursing homes. Senator John Yudichak (I-Luzerne, Carbon) wants the Auditor General to investigate the state.

“Were decisions made that were inappropriate?” Senator Yudichak said. “Were they given bad guidance? Were they not given the state resources they needed to protect lives?”

Especially concerning is a March 2020 memo to nursing homes from the Pa. Department of Health, stating, “Nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions” with coronavirus.

Owens asked the Governor about it.

“We didn’t want people to stay in the hospital because we were concerned about hospital capacity,” Gov. Wolf said.

Yudichak says the logic behind the decision to “overwhelm” long-term care facilities doesn’t add up.

“Think of what you’re doing you’re worried about overwhelming the hospitals, so we’re going to overwhelm nursing facilities which are usually underresourced and understaffed,” Yudichak said.

Wolf says it’s bigger than just a decision made by the state health department.

“I think the Department of Health was just following what the federal government was telling us to do,” Gov. Wolf said.

But that’s not exactly correct. While Pa. said nursing homes “must” accept COVID-positive seniors with proper precautions, the CDC guidance said a nursing home “can” accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19.

It also says, “nursing homes should admit any individuals that they would normally admit.” But not must.

The governor’s spokeswoman also notes that no nursing home has come forward and said they were forced to take covid positive patients by the state’s policy and that directly led to increased deaths.

Owens pressed the Governor on the distinction.

“I’m not sure. I just don’t know,” Gov. Wolf said.

Rep. Zach Mako (R-Lehigh, Northampton) isn’t so sure about the Governor’s uncertainty.

“I would think the Governor would know. That’s a little surprising I’d say. Who’s really running the show?” Mako said.

Especially surprising because in budget hearings the health secretary was grilled over the March 18 guidance. And the House referenced it in announcing its own investigation.

“He should have the answers and he should know this and should be talking to his secretaries,” Mako said.

Yudichak agrees.

“We had staffers in these agencies making decisions without the Governor in the room. That is not an excuse. You have to show up for work and do the job,” Yudichak said.

Both the Governor and his spokeswoman reiterated that their guidance absolutely required nursing homes to follow proper safety protocols to keep residents safe.

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