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Staffing shortages plague Pa. psychiatric hospital

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Your Postmaster: Jordan Wolman
December 15, 2020
Staff shortages, snow and vaccines, new GOP tone, defying Wolf, a teenage Christmas carol, and toss the Latke! Grab your shovel, it's Wednesday.

A psychiatric hospital in western Pennsylvania long known for its inability to retain workers has become so short-staffed that it risks losing federal funding for being unable to meet patient care requirements, Spotlight PA reports.

In an emergency request, the state Department of Human Services said Torrance State Hospital was operating short-staffed essentially every day. An outside expert who reviewed the department’s request to hire a staffing agency said its description of conditions at the hospital raised serious questions about risks for both patients and staff.

In the request, administrators said they had closed one patient ward on weekends and some weekdays, and they have required employees to work extra hours. Joel Dvoskin, a psychologist in Arizona and a former president of the American Psychology-Law Society, reviewed the request and told Spotlight PA that, “If my kid was working there, I would be really concerned.”

The hospital's staffing was the subject of a 2016 state audit and a series of federal inspections that all concluded that inadequate staffing was putting people's health at risk. The coronavirus has further exacerbated the situation.

“We are exhausting our overtime options and mandating staff to work,” the department wrote in the Dec. 2 staffing request. “Despite these efforts, we are operating below appropriate levels.”

THE CONTEXT: The coronavirus is posing the most severe risk ever to those who work or live in confined and closed spaces, including psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, where staffing is already an issue.

As cases and community spread have surged in the past month, more workers at these facilities are getting exposed, causing staffing shortages and, in some cases, leading to the spread of the virus on the inside.

Compounding the problem, many of these facilities have been largely closed off to the public, making it difficult to understand the severity of the situation inside of them. But we're working hard to tell these stories. 

Have you or someone you know been affected by the situation at Torrance State Hospital or another facility? Let us know


“We have known for some time that the results are devastating when COVID gets into nursing homes. Clearly one of the biggest mistakes made at the outset of this pandemic was sending COVID-positive people back into these facilities.”

— Sen. Lisa Boscola (D., Northampton) on Pennsylvania's decision early in the pandemic to order nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-positive patients

POST IT: Great shot by Robert N., of the Walnut St. bridge in downtown Harrisburg. Send us your hidden gems (or your snow photos!), use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
A CHANGING TONE?: Some of the state's GOP lawmakers are feeling the sting of the deadly coronavirus at home, but continue to promote personal responsibility over government mandates and shutdowns targeted at businesses and restaurants. Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) said on her personal Facebook page that the COVID-19 spike and hospital challenges are “real.” “What maybe isn’t so real is that restaurants are a major cause of the spike,” she said.

SNOWED IN: The first winter storm of the year is aligning with the first distribution of vaccines in the state. But the state's emergency management team said there are plans in place to ensure deliveries scheduled for today will arrive as scheduled, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Everyone else should stay home, Gov. Tom Wolf said.

TEACHING IN PERSON: School board members and parents in a Pittsburgh-area school district are suing state officials, alleging they overstepped in requiring that public schools close for in-person instruction when they reach certain numbers of coronavirus cases among students and staff, according to PennLive.

THANKS, NO THANKS: More than 200 restaurants, fitness centers, and other businesses across the state have listed themselves on a growing Facebook page of establishments that are vowing to defy Wolf's ban on indoor service, the Post-Gazette reports. The attorney leading the challenge won a federal lawsuit against the Wolf administration over some of the spring COVID-19 shutdown orders.

GUN SPIKE: Amid racial tension, political fallout, and hunting, the state ran 406,151 background checks for gun buyers in the third quarter of 2020 — the most ever in any quarter, the York Daily Record reports. 
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Any amount makes a difference, but if you contribute $15/month or $180/year, you'll get this exclusive tote bag. Congrats to Deb K. for claiming a tote yesterday.
NEW YEAR, NEW CELEBRATIONS: For towns and cities across Pennsylvania, this upcoming New Year's celebration will be anything but normal. Check out how various locales across the state are planning up for what is typically one of the biggest nights of the year.

CAROLING DURING COVID: Wallis Schriver of Montgomery County released a catchy holiday song, "Lonely Christmas," singing in harmony with her younger sisters — and it took off. It has nearly 500,000 views, thanks in large part to a boost from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

A NEW TRADITION: An attorney and his family bought a camp in the Pocono Mountains in April and named it after his grandfather, Warren Gamaliel Harding Brown. It's among few Black-owned camps there and it's already luring Black hunters from across the country. 

TOSS THE LATKE: 'Tis the season to get creative with celebrations, like this Hanukkah 'on the go' party in a Scranton parking lot where kids played from a distance, and tried to toss latke's in a pan

THE CANTORE CURSE: The Weather Channel's "agent of doom" Jim Cantore is headed for Allentown, and based on past weather disasters, that's bad news for the Lehigh Valley, which is currently set to feel the brunt of the storm. Snap an awesome shot of the snow? Share it with us!
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Love the scrambler? Make a donation to help us end 2020 strong.

Thanks to Doug W. for suggesting today's puzzle.

Yesterday's answer: Superstitious 

Congrats to our daily winners: Steve D., Theodore W., Patricia M., Gail H., John C., Beth T., Kim C., Lynne E., Edward M., Irene R., Tracey C., Mary Ellen T., Bob R., Craig W., Patricia R., George S., Carol D., Doug W., Ron P., Doug W., Dianne K., Susan D., David I., and Lance L.
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