Throughout Pennsylvania, there are 697 nursing homes, 1,143 personal care homes, and 58 assisted living facilities. According to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA), approximately 123,000 Pennsylvanians live in these facilities, and approximately 143,000 individuals are employed at these facilities. In June of 2020, roughly 65% of the state’s COVID-19-related deaths were from the population of Pennsylvanians living in these facilities.
Noting that the COVID-19 crisis is most acute for seniors in “Long Term Care Nursing Facilities,” “Personal Care Homes,” and “Assisted Living Residences,” the Pennsylvania House of Representatives proposed House Bill 2510, or the Senior Protection Act, in May of 2020 to protect seniors and others living in these facilities. Speaker of the House Mike Turzai stated “The Senior Protection Act, developed by medical experts, is a data-driven direct response to the COVID-19 crisis. Senior adults, many with underlying health issues, deserve to live in facilities following the best medical practices, and their families deserve peace of mind.”
The federal government allotted Pennsylvania $3.9 billion for COVID-19 relief efforts. The Senior Protection Act proposed an appropriation of $350 million from these federal funds to reach the goal of protecting seniors and others living in these facilities. Governor Tom Wolf signed the Senior Protection Act into law, and the funds appropriated by the legislation will be distributed by the Department of Human Services (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of Health, to academic health systems which will operate, manage, and administer the funds in order to protect residents living in these facilities from COVID-19. The legislation further provided guidelines as to how these academic health systems will meet the goals outlined in the legislation, as follows:
- Promote health and stabilize the economy of the region by directly supporting COVID-19 readiness and response in facilities;
- Improve the quality of care related to infection prevention and other priority health care conditions common to facilities;
- Expand COVID-19 testing to include asymptomatic staff and residents in facilities to expand public health surveillance;
- Implement best practices in infection control, including, but not limited to: (1) Enhanced testing capability; (2) Infection control consultation and implementation, including contact tracing; and (3) Advanced clinical care, including onsite and telemedicine-supported clinical care, remote monitoring and physician consultation.
In an effort to further protect at-risk seniors and employees at long-term care facilities, Governor Wolf ordered universal coronavirus testing for all nursing homes within Pennsylvania. The order mandates that baseline testing must be completed by July 24, 2020. Testing is to include all residents and employees at these facilities. Secretary of Health Rachel Levine stated “Our goal with implementing this testing in nursing homes is to rapidly detect asymptomatic positive residents, manage their care and prevent further transmission of COVID-19.” Thus far, over 75 long-term care facilities have completed baseline coronavirus testing.
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