Following criticism, state officials are ‘rewriting’ regulation on long-term care homes

    Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine briefs journalists on Saturday 4/18/20 (Screen Capture)

    Changes are coming to the regulations governing Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities following criticism of the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania’s roughly 2,000 personal care homes, state public health officials said Monday. 

    State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said her agency has implemented recommendations from the Auditor General’s office and are “in the process of rewriting regulation based on a report from the Nursing Home Task Force.” 

    Amid calls for her dismissal, Health Secretary Levine says Pa. is evolving its strategies to fight COVID-19

    While the majority of Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities are strictly following existing policies and have successfully prevented COVID-19 from becoming widespread, Levine said it was harder to contain COVID-19 in some facilities.

    “Unfortunately,” Levine said, “the very nature” of long-term care homes allows COVID-19 to spread easily given the congregate living arrangement and the number of residents with underlying health conditions such as heart disease and autoimmune diseases that make them particularly susceptible to the virus. 

    When a case is reported at one of Pennsylvania’s facilities, Levine said that the department reaches out to the facility to assess the situation, provide infection control consultation, resources and, if needed, National Guard support. 

    Some facilities have turned down resources offered by the Health Department, Levine said, adding that she believes this is because they feared being cited, which she says is not the department’s intent.

    “Our priority has been halting the spread of the illness,” Levine said.

    Additionally, Levine said that when cases are reported in long-term care facilities, on-site and virtual investigations are conducted by the state health department “when necessary.”

    To prevent further cases in these facilities in the fall, Levine said, “significantly expanding testing” as well as the development of a rapid, point-of-care test and antibody test for staff, residents and visitors would help reduce cases of COVID-19 in personal care homes. 

    “I think that will help us detect those who are asymptomatic,” Levine said, expressing concern over asymptomatic COVID caregivers and staff that have spread the virus into congregate homes.

    “We need to do everything we can,” Levine said,  to help the workers avoid COVID-19 in their communities.

    Turning her attention to statewide protests over the killing of George Floyd, Levine asked protesters to mitigate the risk by social distancing and wearing a mask. 

    Currently, state officials do not have any plans to change reopening efforts in areas where the largest protests are happening throughout the state. 

    But, Levine said, state health officials “will be watching for increases from the specific areas.”

    In other state states, leaders have urged protesters to get tested for the virus, but Levine said that isn’t necessarily helpful since the incubation period for the virus is between 2-14 days. 

    She said she does not recommend getting tested the day after participating in a protest since it will likely be negative, but encouraged those who experience symptoms to get tested. 

    Cassie Miller
    A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.