After Senate Call for Widespread Testing, PA Department of Health Reverses Course

(HARRISBURG) – After a Senate hearing last week tackled inadequacies in COVID-19 testing in long-term care facilities, the administration reversed course and announced today that they will begin widespread testing of residents and employees.

“It took 13 weeks and more than 2,000 deaths and a Senate hearing for this administration to stop thinking about testing in long-term care facilities and take action,” said Senator Judy Ward (R-30), chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, which co-hosted the hearing with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “This is the step we needed in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 among our most vulnerable population.”

The Senate demands followed a hearing last week where Secretary Levine said the administration would continue to “think” about testing more patients in long-term care communities. Maryland and West Virginia have ordered testing for all residents and staff of its long-term care facilities.

During her testimony, Secretary Levine said she would take the idea of expanded testing back to her team. Secretary Levine also said the department has been limited in testing because of a lack of supplies and issues with the federal government. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on April 29 that commercial laboratories, which have done more than 2.6 million COVID-19 tests, have excess capacity to meet rising demand.

About 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania are people who were residents of the state’s more than 1,900 long-term care facilities. According to the Kaiser Foundation, Pennsylvania has three times the number of deaths and two times the number of cases of COVID in long-term care settings than they do in Florida. Florida has also been significantly less restrictive with their closures.

Senator Ward renewed her call for the administration to provide additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for long-term care facilities.

“Testing is a good first step,” Senator Ward said. “We also need to provide employees there with the proper equipment to prevent spread within the facilities and the communities. The administration took this responsibility more than a month ago and action needs to be taken.”

On April 8, Governor Wolf signed an executive order to allow the state to take and distibute PPE from health care providers and manufacturers and transfer the supplies to another facility as needed. To date, nursing homes continue to beg for this equipment.

 

CONTACT: Cheryl Schriner – cschriner@pasen.gov