Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Pennsylvania's Senior care facilities and nursing homes have been greatly impacted.
The Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County saw 80 residents die as a result of the virus during its peak, making it the hardest hit long-term care facility in the state.
Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania spoke to the KDKA Radio Morning Show on Thursday about facilities like this and the affect COVID-19 can have. "Long term care facilities, nursing homes have been very impacted. You have vulnerable seniors, many with chronic medical conditions, in those congregate settings which put them at risk. So, Pennsylvania had significant issues with this as did every single state that has a significant prevalence of COVID-19, as highlighted in a New York Times article last Saturday."
Kevin Battle of the Morning Show asked Dr. Levine why patients who were recovering from COVID-19 admitted to nursing homes. Levine said "This was implemented according to guidance from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in March. This is the same guidance that almost every state in the country followed. And it wasn't admitting new patients into the facility, this was almost always readmitting patients who came from the facility in the first place. So these are patients who had COVID-19, were in a nursing home, there might be other patients that had COVID-19. A number of patients became much sicker. They were admitted to the hospital and then when they were recovering, they went back home to their facility. We were in contact with every single facility that had any cases of COVID-19 and worked with them in terms of infection control and in terms of cohorting patients to prevent spread."
Levine said the number of cases in long-term care facilities "is directly correlated to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the county where it was located. So, that really has been the driving force behind the number of cases that we saw."
When asked about what went wrong at the Brighton facility in Beaver County, Levine said she couldn't get into specifics, but that the administration is well aware of the issues at that facility. "We had significant with Brighton on a regular basis trying to help that facility. Also, we installed a temporary manager and the National Guard went into that facility. So we're well aware of the challenges that they had. I'd like to emphasize that the Department of Health does not own and run these facilities. We regulate the facilities. We have provided infection control to the facilities. We have provided copious amounts of personal protective equipment and if absolutely necessary, we've sent in the National Guard, but we don't own and run them."
At the end of June, the Wolf administration outlined its strategy to ease visitation restrictions at long-term care facilities, which includes a list of pre-requisites followed by a three-step plan for the facility to follow.
"It's a tough decision in terms of when to allow visitors in, because visitors could, in theory, be carrying COVID-19 and be asymptomatic. So we want to make sure that we don't introduce it into the facilities. But we do understand that people need visitors, so we have laid out a three-point plan for those facilities to follow involving testing and the number of cases that they have, etc. to allow visitors in."
On Wednesday, Levine signed an order making the wearing of masks in public mandatory any time someone leaves their home - not just when visiting businesses. There are detractors who have said this is not necessary. Dr. Cyril Wecht told KDKA Radio that more positive tests leads to herd immunity, where a large percentage of the population contracts the virus and develops antibodies. Dr. Levine said it's not time for a herd immunity action. "We know that significant numbers of people get very sick from this virus, not just seniors, but young adults, younger adults as well in their 20s, 30s and 40s and that would overwhelm the hospitals."
Listen to the full interview with Dr. Levine by clicking here.