Call for increased testing at Pa. nursing, personal care and veteran’s homes hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic

The facilities account for about two-thirds of the commonwealth’s coronavirus-related deaths.

  • Julia Agos

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Correction: This story originally misstated the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Pennsylvania. The figure has been corrected.

(Harrisburg) — Nursing and personal care homes in Pennsylvania are among the hardest hit communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They account for about two-thirds of the commonwealth’s 3,106 coronavirus-related deaths.

The state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on nursing, personal care and veteran’s homes.

Chairwomen Senator Lisa Boscola is calling for an upgrade in training and pay for those who work in such facilities.

“The people who reside in these nursing homes, they built this country. Our veterans in these facilities risked their lives for our country during some of the darkest hours,” she said

Cars line up outside the Central Outreach Wellness Center on the Northside of Pittsburgh Monday, March 16, 2020, for drive-by testing for COVID-19. The testing, that is limited to 100 kits at present, is being done in partnership with Quest Diagnostics, one of the commercial laboratory companies that have offered COVID-19 tests to dramatically increase the nation's capability. Central Outreach Medical Director Dr. Stacy Lane said the drive-by testing is being used to not contaminate waiting rooms. The testing is based on screening questions for symptoms of dry cough or fever, Central Outreach said.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Cars line up outside the Central Outreach Wellness Center on the Northside of Pittsburgh Monday, March 16, 2020, for drive-by testing for COVID-19. The testing, that is limited to 100 kits at present, is being done in partnership with Quest Diagnostics, one of the commercial laboratory companies that have offered COVID-19 tests to dramatically increase the nation’s capability. Central Outreach Medical Director Dr. Stacy Lane said the drive-by testing is being used to not contaminate waiting rooms. The testing is based on screening questions for symptoms of dry cough or fever, Central Outreach said.

They heard from doctors like Valarie Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery County board of commissioners.

“We need to get some of these places connected to testing. Testing all the residents and in my view all the staff, because I don’t know how we get a handle on this without knowing everyone who’s positive,” she said

She warns the nature of nursing homes makes for a rapid spread.

Arkoosh says hospitals often get first priority for things like personal protective equipment and masks — leaving nursing homes to fend for themselves.

She notes nursing home staff were not trained on how to safely reuse PPE or how to properly fit an N-95 mask until after the outbreak began.

More than 10,000 cases have been confirmed in 502 nursing and personal care homes in Pennsylvania, according to the state Health Department.

The hardest hit midstate counties are Berks with 616 cases and 100 deaths in 21 facilities, and Lancaster with 586 cases and 121 deaths in 27 facilities.

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