Department of Health Highlights Dedication to Individuals in Skilled Nursing Facilities

Pennsylvania Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara KlinepeterPennsylvania Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter (Credit: Commonwealth Media Services)

HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter recently highlighted the multitude of steps the department has taken to protect people in skilled nursing facilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many Pennsylvanians, but the most significantly affected have been our vulnerable seniors and other individuals in long-term care facilities,” said Executive Deputy Secretary Klinepeter, who has helped lead the department’s response at long-term care facilities. “From the beginning of the pandemic through the vaccination of residents and staff, the health and well-being of people in long-term care facilities has been a priority. We know that COVID-19 spreads in communities where the virus is circulating, and that is why it is on all of us to ensure we are protecting our most vulnerable.”

Department of Health staff has provided direct consultation and assistance to facilities experiencing outbreaks. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 2,775 outbreaks in 1,586 long-term care facilities. Every facility with an outbreak is provided with consultation directly from the Bureau of Epidemiology at the department.

During April and May 2020, the PA Patient Safety Authority (PSA), an independent state agency, assisted with the response by reaching out on behalf of the Department Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) team to skilled nursing facilities that did not yet have cases of COVID-19 to conduct a formal preparedness assessment and provide consultation. This activity included consultation for 89 facilities.

Rapid response teams used the state’s staffing contract with nurses to staff the facilities in need, used vendor General Health Resources (GHR) on contract with the state, the Pennsylvania National Guard, and the Regional Response Health Collaborative program (RRHC)/Regional Congregate Care Assistance Team (RCAT) to address staffing gaps. More than 600 rapid response team deployments have occurred.

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The RRHC/RCAT program, led by the Department of Human Services in collaboration with the Department of Health, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the regional health systems, have been assigned to nearly 20,000 missions to support long-term care facilities with readiness education, infection prevention, testing, consultations, contact tracing and the use of PPE. The Department of Human Services has worked in tandem with the Department of Health in its initiative to vaccinate those in personal care and assisted-living facilities it licenses. That vaccination program is nearly concluded and Human Service is expected to announce its results early next week.

ECRI, the infection control contractor working with the state, has provided additional technical assistance and support to facilities to complement work done by the department. ECRI provided intensive support for facilities with highly complex outbreaks or with a need for comprehensive infection prevention and control guidance beyond what was typically observed. ECRI provided intensive consultations to 150 long-term care facilities between April 2020 and January 2021. They are now part of the Infection Control and Outbreak Response (ICOR) team, which is a combined team with staff from multiple start agencies. ICOR and ECRI have collaboratively responded to 565 long-term care outbreaks from January 2021 to present.

The Department of Health has been working to ensure that long-term care facilities have the resources, staff and equipment necessary to respond to the COVID-19 virus. As of April 1, 2021, the department has pushed out the following personal protective equipment to long-term care facilities, which is a portion of the total amount of PPE that has been distributed. PPE has also been distributed to hospitals, healthcare providers, emergency management agencies and businesses.

  • More than 3.8 million respirators;
  • More than 2.8 million procedure masks;
  • More than 15 million gloves;
  • More than one million gowns;
  • More than 560,000 face shields;
  • More than 106,000 coveralls; and
  • More than 590,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
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Universal testing occurred at all 692 nursing homes across the state. Since this has been completed, the department has provided facilities with more than 65,000 tests to continue to ensure testing to help prevent outbreaks of cases in long-term care facilities.

To ensure the continued safety of current and future residents, the department recently published a strategy to ensure that new residents and new employees also can get the COVID-19 vaccine on an ongoing basis. This strategy leverages federal allocations through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership while allowing facilities to work with their typical long-term care pharmacies. Those facilities whose long-term care pharmacies are not participating can choose to select one of the participating pharmacies. If that is not available to them, the department will work with them to ensure they receive the vaccine.

The strategy provides information for long-term care facilities and long-term care pharmacies to participate. The plan allows either long-term care pharmacies to administer the vaccine at the long-term care facility, or to use a contractor, such as the long-term care facility, to perform some or all of the eligible pharmacy’s duties.

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