Pa. enlists PEMA, National Guard to try to slow spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities

  • Julia Agos

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard are introducing mobile testing units for coronavirus in long-term care homes.

The teams are designed to provide relief for staff as well as training on use of personal protective equipment.

At a news conference Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf highlighted the work of PEMA and the National Guard during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the two organizations have been instrumental in the state’s preparedness and response to COVID-19.

Nursing homes have become ground zero of the pandemic, with 13,626 of the state’s 63,056 confirmed cases, and 3,086 deaths, in long-term care facilities.

The National Guard has 1,200 service members dedicated to the state’s coronavirus response. It has worked with PEMA, the Department of Health and the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania to establish a medical planning team to coordinate efforts for long-term care facilities support. The teams include physician assistants, nurses, medics and general-purpose forces to assist nursing staff with training and decontamination measures.

“It’s an honor for us to work side by side with other long-term care staff to serve this vulnerable population. To date, we have provided over 3,500 days of staffing support to 10 long-term care facilities, and are currently still supporting five facilities,” said Col. Frank Montgomery, director of Military Support for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

The National Guard is also moving PPE, medical supplies and meal kits around the commonwealth.

Wolf said PEMA, which normally responds to natural disasters, has been monitoring the coronavirus since January, before there was a case detected in the United States.

PEMA helped Pennsylvania tap into federal programs like the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System, which allows health care providers and first responders to stretch PPE by being able to safely decontaminate and reuse N95 masks. Wolf encouraged more facilities to take advantage of this service.

Wolf praised PEMA and the Guard at the news conference.

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