Commonwealth Extends Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams to Continue Support to Long-Term Care Facilities Facing COVID-19

Coronavirus COVID-19

HARRISBURG, PA — The Wolf Administration recently announced an extension of the Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams (RCATs) to support long-term care facilities as they continue to face COVID-19 and the challenges it creates for congregate care settings.

The RCATs will continue providing support with testing, staffing assistance, and rapid response in the event of an outbreak at a long-term care facility, which can still be dangerous for staff and residents at these facilities as COVID-19 remains a threat. The support network originally was set to lapse on February 28, 2021, but it will now be available through May 2021.

“From the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Wolf Administration has made resources available to help long-term care facilities both prepare for potential COVID-19 outbreaks and provide hands-on support if an outbreak occurs so these facilities know that they do not have to face this crisis alone,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “As Pennsylvania and the nation make progress in this fight, we must all do what we can to stop the spread by wearing masks and following mitigation guidance to reduce community transmission and protect our most vulnerable.”

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“Our fight against COVID-19 is not done and neither is our work to support long-term care facilities,” Department of Health Acting Secretary Beam said. “To strengthen our COVID-19 response, the Wolf Administration and the vaccine providers share a mutual mission of getting vaccine into arms – especially those living in congregate settings who are susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. We are making good progress to get those Pennsylvanians vaccinated. We must stay the course to ensure residents and staff have the resources they need and keep our fellow Pennsylvanians safe.”

The RCATs were established in early January 2021 to continue some of the support previously offered by the Regional Response Health Collaborative (RRHC) program when its funding lapsed at the end of 2020. Through the RCATs, more limited services are provided by health systems previously affiliated with the RRHC and are coordinated and deployed through DHS, the Department of Health (DOH), and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). Extending this program will cost $6 million dollars per month which will be funded by a combination of state general funds as well as federal funds available to PEMA through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). State funds included in this effort are reimbursable through FEMA.

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“While the flow of vaccines into Pennsylvania is a positive step in the process to fight COVID-19, we cannot let down our guard,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “Continued efforts to support staff and residents at long-term care facilities is a critical element in that fight.”

The following services are available to long-term care facilities through the RCAT:

  • Call centers previously utilized under the RRHC program are available for facilities to engage participating health systems for infection control and prevention technical assistance and education;
  • Rapid response continues through onsite assessment teams assisting with infection control practices, identifying staffing needs, testing, cohorting, finding alternate care sites, and training needs, as necessary;
  • Staffing assistance will continue to be provided by contracted agencies, as well as the PA National Guard, but is more limited than what was available through the RRHC;
  • Testing assistance is available as resources permit through the DOH vendors; and,
  • The Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s Tomorrow’s Healthcare portal will still be accessible; webinars will be scheduled as needed.

Since transitioning to this model in January, the RCATs have engaged in nearly 3,500 missions covering facility consultations, PPE requests, testing assistance, staffing needs, and rapid response. 53 rapid response deployments have occurred, with 28 to skilled nursing facilities and 25 to personal care homes.

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Even as Pennsylvania makes significant progress with vaccinating residents and staff of long-term care facilities, COVID-19 may still challenge these facilities as those who decline a vaccine can still be vulnerable to the virus. While COVID-19 remains a threat and the Commonwealth states it continues to see community transmission of new variants, the RCAT will be available in the event outbreaks occur so that the Commonwealth can help facilities that need staffing or rapid response assistance. The Wolf Administration states they will continue to do all they can to support our long-term care facilities so they are not alone through this crisis.

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