May. 12, 2020

By Wendi Thomas
178th District

For many weeks now, I have been troubled by the state’s failures in supporting the residents of our long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic. But what I heard last week during the House Aging and Older Adult Committee meetings is shocking and upsetting.

On Thursday, May7,weheard testimony fromUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)which serves over 3,500 seniors in long-term living communities in Western Pennsylvania. Deborah Brodine, President of UPMC Senior Services testified that,as of May 7, UPMC Senior Communities had zero COVID-19 cases across their 29 facilities.


Why haven’t the rest of the state’s long-term care facilities followed UPMC’s example? With more than 60% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths occurring in long-term care facilities, why not follow UPMC’s example with thorough testing and PPE use?

The very next day I had a chance to ask Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine.

I asked her that while the administration claimed our long-term care facilities had enough PPE, my office reached out to the facilities in Bucks County and were told they were in desperate need of protective masks and devices.

Levine said deliveries were going outthat day.

This was May 8. We have been in lockdown since March 17.

They knew long-term care facilities were vulnerable, but they were only sending out PPE two months later.

Testing is another issue.

UPMC spokeabout the amount of testing they are doing. We have heard from senior advocates about the need for testing. And we have heard Dr. Levine speak of the need for testing.

So why is the state not performing more testing at our long-term care facilities when, just that morning, RiteAid announced it would do general testing of the public with the capacity of performing 10,000 tests per day?

The administration told us testing was still improving and will be better available in the future.

So, RiteAid can perform10,000 tests per day, yet the state cannot help our most vulnerable population.

Counting residents of long-term care facilities as part of the general population case counts will only keep counties locked down unnecessarily as the virus is largely contained to nursing homes. We need a mitigation plan for the general population and a separate plan for thesefacilities.

And the administration agreed that, yes, long-term care facilities will not move to yellow when the rest of a county does.

Then why would we not have two separate and distinct data points for deciding to reopen a county since the state will reopen our communities and long-term care facilities separately?

If the administration cannot act with precision, the legislature must.

We must prioritize the distribution of PPE to long-term care facilities,make sure testing is done to the fullest extent available, and we must collaborate with successful institutions like UPMC.

I am a co-sponsor on legislation that is proposed to use some of the State’s Federal CARES money to establish a coordinated, collaborative public-private partnership approach that includes multiple stakeholders; and assign accountability to regional academic health system collaboratives that can administer/manage personnel, protocols, testing, and expenditures to protect the seniors in these facilities. We have a model of success – let’s use it to protect our seniors!

It will be a far better strategy than the administration’s current scattershot and ineffective plan which has failed to protect our most vulnerable and crippled our economy.

Representative Wendi Thomas
178th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: David Foster