Nursing homes have been devastated by COVID-19. A new report offers fixes | Thursday Morning Coffee

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Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

As it has across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a tremendous toll — mentally, physically and economically — on Pennsylvania.

To one extent or another, we’ve all borne the burden of the greatest public health crisis in a century. But perhaps no segment of our population has been as hard hit as have residents of the Keystone State’s long-term care facilities.

Through midday on Wednesday, state health officials had confirmed 122,605 cases of the virus in all 67 counties. Since the pandemic began in March, 7,523 Pennsylvanians have lost their lives. Those aged 60 and up have constituted the majority of the fatalities, according to state data. Nearly a quarter of the state’s confirmed cases are among those aged 65 and older, state data also show.

In a new report, nine advocacy groups for the aged and the disabled recommend a sweeping array of reforms, from mandatory and regular testing to addressing racial and economic disparities in care that have led to the staggering number of deaths.

“These common-sense measures can be quickly implemented. Pennsylvania has taken some steps towards addressing the COVID-19 crisis in [long-term care] facilities, including making the state laboratory available for testing and using CARES funding to support [long-term care] facilities in their safety efforts. But Pennsylvania still has time to implement additional measures to prevent COVID-19 related deaths in [long-term care] facilities and other adverse outcomes by adopting these recommendations,” the report reads.

The groups behind the report are: The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE); Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS); Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter; Alzheimer’s Association Greater Pennsylvania Chapter; Center for Independent Living of Central PA; Disability Rights PA (DRP); Pennsylvania Association of Elder Law Attorneys; the Pennsylvania Health Law Project (PHLP), and the SeniorLAW Center.

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In all, 4,700 residents of long-term care facilities have died during the pandemic. That’s 68 percent of the state’s total fatalities. The report credits the Wolf administration for taking steps to address the crisis. But it’s also true the administration exacerbated the crisis by placing medically stable COVID-19 patients in nursing homes.

“The chaos of the COVID-19 crisis has illuminated the vulnerabilities of [long-term care] facilities. Infection control failures and staffing shortages are just two of the longstanding problems that impact the quality of care our loved ones receive in an [long-term care] facility,” the report reads.

“Couple these long-standing problems with the crisis of COVID-19 and the result has been far worse outcomes than the virus alone would have caused,” the report continues “Additionally, early COVID-19 data is already demonstrating stark racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes for [long-term care] facility residents, revealing another reason to address racial equity through structural reforms to the [long-term care] system. Low-income, Medicaid funded residents also experience the adverse impact of COVID-19 in disproportionate numbers as compared with their non-Medicaid-funded peers.”

Below, some of the report’s other recommendations:

“Advocates had been calling for improvements long before the arrival of COVID-19. Understaffing and significant infection control violations have been documented by advocates and the media for years,” the report’s authors conclude. “Now, with the pandemic ravaging [long-term care] facilities, Pennsylvania must finally take steps to ensure the rights, health and safety of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
The state teacher’s pension fund is pulling almost $2 billion from private funds that promised, and failed, to bring in steady financial returns even during uncertain times, Stephen Caruso reports.Bad news, milkshake lovers: The 2021 Pennsylvania Farm Show is going virtual this year, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said Wednesday. Cassie Miller has the details.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed it off the front pages, but Pennsylvania’s opioid abuse epidemic is still very much with us. On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf renewed the state’s 90-day emergency declaration for the 11th time, giving officials increased latitude to fight abuse, your humble newsletter author writes.

In Philadelphia, experts from the Urban League and Community Legal Services offered counsel on how those in need can avoid eviction, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Jamar Thrasher offers some reflections on how the pandemic has changed his views of fatherhood and the lessons he’s trying to teach his daughter. And poll workers are essential employees and need to be treated that way, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe offers.

(Image via pxHere.com)

Elsewhere.
With unpaid utility bills on the rise during the pandemic, advocates are fearing mass shutoffs, the Inquirer reports.
A protest outside Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s house ended with an arrest, and pepper spray being used, the Tribune-Review reports.
A top Pennsylvania lawmaker raised money for a nonprofit group whose agenda is largely a mystery, SpotlightPA reports (via PennLive with a paywall).
Students in the East Penn middle and high schools will go fully remote when classes resume, the Morning Call reports.
The Northwest Area schools in Luzerne County have approved a hybrid return plan, the Citizens-Voice reports.
GoErie looks at the Erie Police Department’s efforts to diversify the ranks of its officers.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the World.

Schools that fail to comply with mask mandates will face consequences, the Beaver County Times reports. 
Two hundred people gathered outside Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, where former President Barack Obama delivered his DNC speech, WHYY-FM reports.
Black history is getting a new emphasis in school district curricula nationwide, Stateline.org reports.
Despite Trumpian rhetoric, Republicans are quietly pushing mail-in ballotingPolitico reports.

What Goes On.
11 a.m., Capitol Steps:
 Rally in favor of school sports.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Super-ultra-mega best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’The BlogKate Philips, of Erie, who celebrates another voyage around the sun today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a tune that brings us back to the summer of 1990. It’s tough to overstate what a huge record this was, or what a magnetic performer Irish singer/songwriter Sinead O’Connor was, that year. From her sophomore LP “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” it’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Sigh. Boston eliminated Carolinabeating the ‘Canes 2-1, during their Eastern Conference playoff on Wednesday. There’s always next season, fellas.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press