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From the archives 2020

Long-term care workers demand more protection as Pa. reports first coronavirus cases at nursing homes

by Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA |

Groups that represent the state’s nursing and long-term care centers say workers need protective equipment like masks, as seen here on a medical worker in Philadelphia.
TIM TAI / Philadelphia Inquirer

This story was produced as part of a joint effort among Spotlight PA, LNP Media Group, PennLive, PA Post, and WITF to cover how Pennsylvania state government is responding to the coronavirus. Sign up for Spotlight PA’s newsletter.

HARRISBURG — Health workers who care for seniors and people with disabilities are calling on the state to provide them with more masks, hand sanitizer, and paid time off, as Pennsylvania nursing homes begin to see cases of the coronavirus.

In a letter sent Monday, groups that represent nursing and long-term care centers asked Gov. Tom Wolf for $290 million in emergency federal and state funding. That money is needed to supply staff with supplies like coveted N95 masks, gloves, disposable gowns, and face shields, the letter said, as well as to help facilities pay for paid sick leave.

“No group of people are at higher risk than older adults, and no group of organizations will be asked to support them through both prevention and mitigation more than nursing homes and long-term care providers,” said representatives from unions including SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania as well as the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and LeadingAge PA, two industry organizations.

Several residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at one Philadelphia nursing home, while another case was reported Tuesday in Northampton County.

Julie Beckert, a spokesperson for ManorCare in Palmer Township, said all workers interacting with COVID-19 patients will wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment.

“The rest of the facility will have universal masking,” Beckert said. “Our supply chain and local facilities are working with all resources available including national and local vendors and state and regional health departments.”

On Wednesday, Allegheny County-based Kane Community Living Centers announced a staffer had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for Wolf, said the administration is “working to protect our most vulnerable populations during this unprecedented crisis, including looking forward to a review of the direct funding available via the federal stimulus package so that we can make necessary allocations to healthcare facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes.”

“We also are engaged with the General Assembly on additional emergency funding,” she said.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on a $2 trillion stimulus package Wednesday, though the legislation’s fate in the U.S. House is unclear. State attorneys general including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shaprio wrote a letter Tuesday urging President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to manufacture critical supplies like masks and respirators.

Groups that represent home-based health care workers are also looking for help.

The Pennsylvania Homecare Association, an industry organization that represents providers, wrote a letter to Health Secretary Rachel Levine last week asking for “guidance” on shortages of personal protective equipment.

Levine said during a news conference Tuesday that the state “has stores of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment as well as ventilators.” She said the state’s supplies “are being replenished as we put those out by the federal government from their stores.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the state had more than 1 million N95 masks before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Because of the constant work being done in regards to masks, we do not have an estimate of what is available,” the spokesperson, Nate Wardle, said. “We are working around the clock to ensure those who need N95 masks have access to them, while also working through traditional and non-traditional means to get them.”

Jill Helsel Gingrich, a spokesperson for LeadingAge PA, said “obtaining additional supplies and restocking in anticipation of possible exposure has been nearly impossible.”

“Many items, including the vitally important N95 masks, are on allocation from major vendors and purchasing increased quantities is not an option as the masks are not available,” she said.

The groups behind the letter — which also includes a chapter of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees — said they anticipate staffing shortages due to workers getting sick or having to care for sick family members.

Brett Sholtis of WITF contributed to this article.

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