Wolf administration faces potential investigation of COVID-19 guidance to senior homes

Ioannis Pashakis//March 3, 2021

Wolf administration faces potential investigation of COVID-19 guidance to senior homes

Ioannis Pashakis//March 3, 2021

Pennsylvania’s House Republicans plan to refer an investigation into the Wolf administration’s handling of senior and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic to the House Government Oversight Committee later this month.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre and Mifflin counties, announced he would be leading the referral in a statement on Monday. In the announcement, he said the Wolf administration has lacked transparency in its guidance for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the past year.

“We believe Pennsylvanians deserve better from their government when they are seeking answers as to why something so tragic has occurred and they are not getting answers,” Benninghoff said. “Unfortunately, as of today, including our recent budget hearings where members directly asked the administration about this issue, Pennsylvanians and their families are left only with excuses and deflection from an administration that has been anything but transparent.”

In March 2020, the state Department of Health issued several pieces of guidance to provide direction to long-term care facilities to allow for specific infection control measures to protect residents and staff.

Some of this guidance included restrictions on visitors and volunteers and a stipulation that nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents, including stable patients with COVID-19.

The Wolf administration’s alleged lack of transparency in the reasoning behind its directives for Pennsylvania’s long-term care homes during the pandemic has been subject to criticism from the right.

As of Feb. 26, 23,937 Pennsylvanians have died from COVID-19 and 12,470 of those deaths have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities, according to the state Department of Health.

“We want answers for the people who lost loved ones in our nursing homes under Secretary Levine’s order and Gov. Wolf’s leadership,” said Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga, Bradford and Potter counties. “The problem has been, no one will step up and do the investigation here in Pennsylvania. So, if no one else will do it for these families, we will.”

Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, called the GOP accusations “baseless,” and said they “portray a significant lack of understanding of the role of the Department of Health and guidance provided to nursing facilities.”

Kensinger said that the state’s guidance mirrored the federal government’s recommendations and required facilities to follow specific infection control measures, but it rested on each individual facility to follow through with the recommendations.

“It is incumbent upon the nursing homes to follow infection control and other guidance designed to keep patients safe during both regular periods and the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “Failure to institute protections can result in sanctions, license suspensions or revocations.”

A representative of the for-profit long-term care industry seemed to welcome the investigation, which facilities could emphasize a need for the state to bring providers to the table in a greater way when it makes such decisions, said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO at the Pennsylvania Health Care Association (PHCA).

PHCA is a statewide advocacy organization for for-profit long-term care providers. According to Shamberg, he and other members of the industry have testified to the state’s decision makers regarding the needs of the industry but were not brought to the table to help with those decisions like states like West Virginia have done.

“I have to believe that as these detectives were being given in March and April 2020, if providers were at the table you would have seen different guidance that would have done more to protect residents and guide staff,” he said.