The state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to direct more than half a billion dollars in federal relief funds to the state’s long-term care facilities, which have accounted for nearly a quarter of the state’s COVID-19 cases and more than half of its fatalities.
The bill, which now goes to the state House for approval, also allocates $31 million to a grant program for fire companies and EMS agencies.
Funding for the measure comes from the federal CARES Act, which sent $3.9 billion to Pennsylvania for COVID-19 recovery programs.
“What has occurred in our nursing homes is tragic, and while this [bill] cannot repair the damage that has already been done, it will go a long way“ in improving centers in years to come, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said.
Long-term care facilities and managed care facilities will receive $457 million under the bill. Another $50 million will go to a state program that helps older adults and individuals with physical disabilities receive care in their homes.
Data from the state Department of Health show that 12,130 residents and 1,724 staff in 540 nursing homes and long-term care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. The centers have also been the site of 2,611 COVID-19 related deaths.
The state has reported more than 57,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,806 fatalities since March 6, though experts say both figures would likely be higher if the state had widespread testing.
The Wolf administration announced Tuesday that it would begin weekly, universal testing in nursing homes and long-term facilities to diagnose and isolate COVID-19 patients.
That news came as Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that his office had launched a criminal probe into several nursing homes in the state, the Associated Press reported.
Republicans in the Senate urged support for the funding measure Tuesday while criticizing the Wolf administration for what they said was a failure to contain COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, said Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine were to blame for a massive outbreak at a Beaver County nursing home, where the state recently deployed a state oversight officer and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said the state’s response has been “beyond insufficient.”
Democrats, on the other hand, defended the Democratic Wolf administration and said it was inaction by the Trump administration that hobbled the country’s response to the pandemic.
“The blame should not be focused here, it should be focused in Washington D.C.,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said.
Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, also expressed frustration that the Senate bill earmarked only $4.6 million for EMS providers, compared to $26.4 million for fire companies.
Williams said the allocation wasn’t enough to support EMS professionals “who are seeing dramatic impacts of their own health and safety” responding to emergency calls during the pandemic.