Nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes, industry says more funding is needed to combat the virus

Written by on July 24, 2020

Nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes, industry says more funding is needed to combat the virus

By Chloe Nouvelle

July 24, 2020

Photo | Chloe Nouvelle / WLVR

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death toll stands at over 7,000. And nearly 70 percent so far stem from long term care facilities.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced nursing homes will receive an additional $5 billion dollars to help fund their fight against the virus. 

But that’s $95 billion dollars short of what the industry is calling for. WLVR’s Chloe Nouvelle has that story

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living say nursing homes have received less than 5 percent of the $175 billion dollars in Cares Act funding that was set aside for healthcare providers. And they say assisted living communities have received nothing.

Meredith Mills is the chief operating officer at Country Meadows, a senior care organization that runs five long term care communities, including assisted living centers, In Lehigh, Northampton, and Berks counties. 

“We have not had a lot of assistance other than guidance and guidelines from the state,” said Mills.

Zach Shamberg leads the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. He says COVID-19 positive patients are being discharged from hospitals and being sent to nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living communities…but only ones that are, quote, “adequately equipped” to care for them.

“We have providers, whether it’s nursing homes, personal care homes, or assisted living communities, who have been the frontlines of this pandemic from day one, who have worked day and night to keep the residents safe, to keep their staff safe. And it feels like no matter what they do, they’re not being heard in state government and sometimes in federal government,” said Shamberg.

Advocates say there is a quote “enormous cost” that goes along with protecting vulnerable residents and staff from the pandemic. Mills says her company has to foot the bill to COVID-19 test their staff. And it’s a substantial expense… that’s recurring. 

“Every time we test our workforce, it costs us a quarter of a million dollars.”

And PPE shortages made it harder for these facilities to even get their hands on supplies. And she says, her centers were not high on the priority list to be stocked.

The hospitals were put first, the doctors offices were put second, the skilled nursing facilities were third in line. And we really were on very, very strict allocations from our supply chain.

And it’s not just PPE they’re running low on. Shamberg says it’s people too.

We’re the third oldest state in terms of our population, and there simply are not enough frontline caregivers to care for our growing population,” said Shamberg.

This pandemic has exacerbated that problem. 

Mills says her company has invested in extra pay for staff during the pandemic. And  given all of COVID’s added costs…staff testing, PPE, sanitization, appreciation pay…. She’s not sure how long facilities like hers can continue to go without government support.

“It’s not sustainable. Personal care and assisted living is completely private pay. The only way we would be able to make up the money that we spent on all of these things would be to raise our residents rent, and that’s – that’s certainly not sustainable for us or for our seniors.

 US COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. While recent cases appear to be occurring mainly in younger Americans, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine warned a pattern is repeating…COVID spreading from the young to the old.

“Our experience from the beginning of the pandemic shows that first cases rise in those younger individuals, some of whom did become quite sick, requiring hospitalization and went on to recover. Then COVID-19 spread quickly through the community, impacting congregate settings like nursing homes where most of our most serious illnesses and deaths have occurred.”

A second, federal Coronavirus relief bill is being negotiated by congress and the white house now. But it’s unclear if senior care facilities will benefit.

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