|By Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-Dillsburg)
For months we have been told by Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Rachael Levine that senior citizens, one of our most vulnerable populations, are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 and that we must do all we can to protect them.
I completely agree, it is up to us to care for and safeguard our senior citizens. At the same time, I am deeply saddened, and extremely angry that Wolf and Levine didn’t live by their own words, but rather, neglected residents in senior care facilities.
As of May 15, 2,991 Pennsylvanians living in nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences died due to COVID-19, according to Levine. These tragic deaths account for 69% of Pennsylvania’s 4,442 COVID-19 deaths. Sixty-nine percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state happening in care homes among our most vulnerable is completely and utterly unacceptable.
Data also shows that there are more than 12,500 cases of COVID-19 in these facilities and nearly 2,000 cases among employees, for a total of more than 14,000 at more than 540 distinct nursing and personal care facilities.
Ironically, the state had an aggressive plan prepared to respond to virus outbreaks in senior living facilities. However, for some reason, the Wolf administration failed to follow their own plan. Levine’s Department of Health used an extremely scaled back and watered-down plan, it wasn’t even implemented until the middle of April, weeks after outbreaks had ravished these facilities. Keep in mind this was about the same time Wolf prioritized prisoners over seniors when he released criminals from prisons claiming to be protecting them from a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
Instead of vigilantly monitoring and attacking outbreaks in these facilities, the Wolf administration issued guidelines and orders mandating the acceptance of COVID-19 residents. Our vulnerable seniors in these highly regulated facilities had COVID-19 brought to them, curtesy of Wolf and Levine, who in turn ignored their pleas for help. Well, all except one resident. Levine moved her own mother out of a senior living facility and into a hotel during the
pandemic. Clearly Levine understood the level of risk that existed in Pennsylvania senior living facilities.
Even more incredulous is the fact that the Wolf administration didn’t reveal the alarming number of senior care facility deaths until the end of April. Despite weeks of claiming widespread testing wasn’t necessary in senior care facilities, Levine backtracked and is now calling for comprehensive testing for residents and employees. While I appreciate the effort, sadly it’s too late for the thousands of Pennsylvanians in these facilities whose lives were taken by COVID-19.
To understand exactly how and why our most at-risk population wasn’t prioritized, the House and Senate have begun hearings to understand the full scope of the enormous failings of Wolf and Levine. We’ve already learned that senior care facility pleas for assistance and specific guidance from Levine were sometimes ignored and often directed to a generic list of frequently asked questions. We were also told that on numerous occasions the Wolf administration denied requests for PPE and other resources. While we have additional hearings scheduled, I am joining my colleagues in the House, demanding a full investigation into the matter.
Additionally, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry has also asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to launch a federal investigation into the state Department of Health's guidance to nursing homes during COVID-19.
To address the issues these facilities are currently facing, the House took action this week when it passed the Senior Protection Act to establish a coordinated public-private-partnership approach of regional health system collaboratives to administer and manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures so that seniors in these facilities are protected.
It is completely unacceptable that senior citizens were left in the situation in which they found themselves with little to no help from the administration. It is absolutely shameful, and the Wolf administration and Levine must be held accountable.
Representative Dawn Keefer
92nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross