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Chester County Press

Rep. Lawrence: Department of Aging impeding federal investigation into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care home

02/22/2021 04:45PM ● By Steven Hoffman

At a budget hearing on Feb. 15 at the state Capitol, Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester/Lancaster) lambasted Secretary of Aging Robert Torres for his department’s actions blocking the release of documents to a federally empaneled grand jury looking into an unusually high rate of COVID-19 related deaths at a nursing home in western Pennsylvania.

“As the Secretary of the Department of Aging, Secretary Torres is the Wolf Administration's top advocate for seniors,” said Lawrence. “Yet today, he testified that he was not consulted on the administration’s order that COVID positive patients be admitted back into nursing homes, he defended the untenable position that the Department of Aging must block release of documents requested by a federal grand jury, and indicated that he hasn’t spoken to his boss about a developing scandal that has attracted bipartisan concern.”

A recent New York Times investigation found Pennsylvania to have some of the highest nursing home-related COVID-19 fatality rates in the nation, with two nursing homes among those with the highest COVID-19-related deaths in the nation. 

One of those facilities, Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County, is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation and several lawsuits on behalf of current and former Brighton residents.  

Press reports indicate the Pennsylvania Department of Aging recently filed a motion to quash a subpoena requesting documents on complaints or investigations at Brighton.

“You are not protecting seniors when your department files a court motion to quash [this] subpoena.  Your department is on the record now to block this investigation,” said Lawrence, adding that Torres “report[s] to the Governor.  I see you standing in the way of a federal investigation into what happened at a nursing home under supervision of a state appointed manager.  Have you spoken to the Governor about this?”

“No sir,” replied Torres.

An incredulous Lawrence replied, “Are you asking me to believe that the Governor and his Secretary of Aging haven’t talked about this situation?  A nursing home under federal investigation with one of the highest COVID death rates in the nation?”

“I’ve discussed it with our counsel, that’s who I’ve discussed it with,” replied Torres.