State releases data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
In response to pressure from key stakeholders, elected officials and the public to address the issue, the Wolf administration released data last week that detailed the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania, and the numbers tell a shocking story.
In total, there have been 3,086 deaths in 560 long-term care facilities across the state, accounting for more than 68 percent of the total number of COVID-19 related fatalities throughout Pennsylvania, which as of May 20 stood at a total of 63,666 cases and 4,624 deaths.
The list included 38 long-term care facilities in Chester County. Of those, the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City has been the hardest hit, with a recorded 106 resident cases, 13 employee cases, and 35 deaths. Green Meadows Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Malvern has recorded 62 positive cases of COVID-19 among its residents, 5 cases among its employees and 30 fatalities, followed by Brandywine Hall in West Chester, which has recorded 116 resident cases, 5 employee cases and a total of 28 deaths.
In statistics provided by the Chester County Health Department on May 20, a total of 686 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported at 37 of the county’s 75 long-term care facilities and personal care homes, while the number of those who residents who have died from the virus stands at 179, which accounts for 80 percent of the total number of COVID-19 related deaths reported in the county.
The results of this data has contributed to making Pennsylvania among the nation’s leaders when it comes to coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes, a fact that is backed up by a state-issued report that said since April 16, coronavirus cases have skyrocketed by 238 percent, more than tripling the rate of increase for cases outside of long-term-care facilities.
In attempting to connect the dots of this pandemic wave happening at these facilities, critics of the Wolf administration point to what they believe is a contributing factor in the ballooning case and death toll. In March, Pa. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine ordered long-term care facilities in the state to continue to accept coronavirus patients who had been discharged from hospitals but were not able to return to their homes.
While older populations in Pennsylvania have been determined to more susceptible to COVID-19, several health experts and medical trade associations believed that Levine’s order was a surefire recipe for disaster, and levied criticism at the state for not committing to wider testing at these facilities – a directive that they said would cost more lives.
In an attempt to support their claim that they are taking the necessary steps to slow down those numbers, the Wolf Administration released a statement on May 19, stating that it has taken a three-pillar approach to protecting vulnerable residents living in nursing homes and other long-term living settings:
1. Ensuring resident safety through testing, education and resources;
2. Preventing and mitigating outbreaks; and
3. Working in partnership with state agencies, local health departments and long-term care facility operators.
“Testing is an essential component to making sure vulnerable residents in these long-term care facilities are safe,” the statement read. “Through the state’s testing strategy, we are working to ensure that testing is accessible for all Pennsylvanians with COVID-19 symptoms, available through increased efforts to build supply and capacity and adaptable based on the ever changing landscape of the virus and data available.”
The statement said that the Health Department issued guidelines last week to hospitals and nursing homes that require a resident who is being discharged from a hospital to a nursing home, personal care home, or assisted living facility to be tested for COVID-19, if they were not hospitalized due to the virus.
It will provide valuable information to the long-term care facility on any needs to cohort the patient, monitor their condition and take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, if applicable. A pilot study of two facilities is currently underway to test all residents and staff at the facility.
In addition, a health alert was previously issued to provide direction to all skilled nursing facilities on a universal testing strategy, outlining when testing should be used, and what steps to take after a positive test result.
Test results can be used to cohort those exposed, determine the burden of COVID-19 across units or facilities to allocate resources, identify health care workers who are infected, and address those who are no longer ill.
Education to facilities has been provided through bulletin boards, nursing home associations, and our normal channels of communication such as health alert network messages.
“The information from these tests will be used for cohorting,” the statement read. “The department, working with commercial laboratories, has been coordinating with facilities that are implementing universal testing. We are receiving test swabs from the federal government to ensure our facilities have an adequate supply.
“In addition, the Pennsylvania National Guard is mobilizing to provide a mobile testing option for facilities that may not be able to test on their own.”
The statement also included other initiatives the state has done:
* Delivered more than 1,700 shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) to nursing homes, personal care homes and other long-term care facilities, both as routine deliveries and also to meet critical needs;
* Held webinars and classes on PPE for long-term care employees and leadership on how to use it effectively and has trained and fit-tested more than 150 individuals;
* Provided facilities with the resources and expertise to provide consultation in order to prevent or control existing outbreaks; and
* Provided direct consultation with more than 250 facilities who have been experiencing outbreaks through its Healthcare Acquired Infection team.
“Our long-term care facilities are an integral part of Pennsylvania’s health care system,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “People providing care in long-term care facilities must endure these challenges of this difficult time while maintaining continuity and services for people under their care,” “We are committed to continuing networks of support for these facilities so we can navigate and overcome this challenge together.”
“Long-term care facility residents are among the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and we want their families to have the latest information on what is going on in the facilities in which their loved ones reside,” Levine said. “COVID-19 is a particularly challenging situation for these settings as they care for residents with serious medical conditions. We will continue to work to ensure the safety and well being of residents through education, resources and testing.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]ercounty.com.
COVID-19 cases and deaths at long-term care facilities/personal care homes in Chester County
Number of licensed long-term facilities in Chester County: 75
Number of facilities that have experienced COVID-10 outbreak: 37
Long-term care outbreaks as a percentage of total facilities: 49%
Number of cases among residents: 686
Long-term cases as a percentage of total county cases: 31%
Number of deaths among residents: 179
Long-term care facility deaths as a
Percentage of total deaths in Chester County due to COVID-19: 80%
Source: Chester County Health Department as of May 19, 2020