Wolf Releases Plan to Test All Residents and Workers at Long-Term Care Facilities

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By Associated Press

May 21, 2020

A state Health Department spokesperson acknowledged the goal is ambitious, since that likely involves testing more than 135,000 people every week.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday said that his administration’s new goal to test every resident and employee for the coronavirus in long-term care facilities is June 1, a week after the target date recommended by the White House to governors.

The testing is to go on every week, Wolf said, although Wolf’s own Department of Health has not necessarily endorsed any such idea or released a plan that backs that up.

A state Health Department spokesperson acknowledged the goal is ambitious, since that likely involves testing more than 135,000 residents and employees in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and personal care homes.

The Wolf administration has been under pressure to release a plan to test every resident and employee in the facilities since they have been hit hard, accounting for roughly two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s more than 4,700 reported coronavirus-related deaths.

It is also a break from last week’s guidance. That guidance encouraged facilities where the coronavirus is already present to test all residents and staff, whether or not they have symptoms of the disease, and recommending that facilities without any known infections to test 20% of residents and employees weekly.

However, Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, among others, criticized that plan as inadequate and short of what other states were pursuing.

Still, Adam Marles, president and CEO of another nursing home group, LeadingAge PA, said the homes don’t have access to an adequate supply of tests or funding to pay for them.

Allegheny County’s health department director, Dr. Debra Bogen, said any sort of large-scale testing presents challenges with distributing test kits, administering the tests and processing them quickly.

Wolf’s announcement comes as the state Department of Health said it was working to fix day-old data showing, for the first time, the number of coronavirus cases and coronavirus-related deaths in each of hundreds of long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania.

Shamberg said he had heard from at least a dozen of his members that the data was incorrect.

In some cases, the number of positive cases listed outnumbered the number of residents in the community or the facility, Shamberg said.

He asked the Department of Health to take down the data and correct it before reposting it, he said. But the department had made no commitment to doing that, he said.

The inaccuracies fueled anger and frustration among the association’s members, who were faced with the family members of residents seeing that the state’s figures didn’t match what the facilities had been providing to them.

“Once you lose confidence in those caring for your loved ones, it’s impossible to get it back,” Shamberg said. “That’s who really gets hurt with incorrect data like this.”

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