Human Services Staff Recognized for Program Supporting Long-Term Care Facilities

Gov. Tom WolfCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — Governor Tom Wolf announced that four Department of Human Services (DHS) employees were recipients of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence for the creation and operationalization of the Regional Response Health Collaborative (RRHC) program, a statewide program created to provide clinical, operational, and educational support to long-term care facilities preparing for or facing outbreaks of COVID-19 at their facility.

Wilmarie Gonzalez and Jeanne Parisi of DHS’ Office of Long-Term Living (OLTL), Andrea Cellasio Race of DHS’ Office of Budget, and Sallie Rodgers of DHS’ Office of General Counsel will be recognized by Governor Wolf at a recent virtual ceremony for their instrumental work in designing a program that bolstered Pennsylvania’s support for long-term care facilities and their residents and staff. The program was launched in June 2020 after a monumental, month-long effort by these state employees, teleworking in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), and 11 health systems from across the commonwealth.

“My administration has always been committed to supporting long-term care facilities and ensuring the health and safety of their residents,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “I am thankful to these award recipients for starting this program and protecting the lives of thousands of Pennsylvanians.”

“The employees who started the RRHC program helped long-term care facilities better-respond to COVID-19 and protect their residents. They went above and beyond their job descriptions in order to make this program work, and I am incredibly proud of my colleagues for earning this prestigious honor today,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “Long-term care providers provide a home and care for some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our long-term care facilities were overwhelmed as they worked to mitigate the risk of spread of the virus. The RRHC program strengthened our response to COVID-19 at the state level, and this collaborative approach saved lives.”

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More than 45,000 Pennsylvanians live in more than 1,200 personal care homes and assisted living residences, and more than 80,000 residents live in 693 skilled nursing facilities throughout the commonwealth. These residents are often some of the most vulnerable and susceptible to COVID-19 due to age, presence of existing health conditions that may lead to complications, and the congregate nature of these facilities.

The award recipients designed the RRHC program to provide operational and administrative support to protect residents in long-term care facilities from COVID-19. These supports helped facilities implement best practices in infection control, implement contact tracing programs in facilities, support clinical care through on-site and telemedicine services, provide remote monitoring and consultation with physicians, and enhance testing capability for both individuals in care and staff at facilities. RRHCs also provided alternate care arrangements for hospitalized COVID-19 patients until they were considered no longer infectious and could return to their long-term care residential facilities.

RRHCs engaged with a facility or were called in more than 14,500 times between July and December 2020 to help with concerns identified from DHS, DOH, or PEMA. These engagements, called missions, included assistance with testing, assessing a facility’s preparedness, staffing support, PPE support, testing to ensure PPE is properly fitted, and questions or concerns requiring consultation.

RRHCs also performed 539 emergency rapid response deployments to facilities. These rapid response teams consisted of clinical and infection control professionals from the RRHCs to evaluate the situation, ensure proper cohorting of patients based off COVID status, facilitate resident transfers and additional staffing if necessary, and coordinate safe continued care for residents who are not COVID-positive. The rapid response teams also provided emotional support to both residents and staff to help with the stress and fear associated with an outbreak. Rapid response teams were designed to stabilize potential or confirmed outbreaks, and assistance from RRHCs was not withdrawn until the situation was stabilized and there was no immediate risk to staff and residents.

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Funding for this model lapsed at the end of 2020, and Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams (RCATs) were established in January 2021 to continue support for long-term care facilities.

The Governor’s Awards for Excellence recognize commonwealth employees for outstanding contributions to Pennsylvania through exemplary job performance or service that reflects initiative, leadership, innovation and increased efficiency. The DHS employees are among 51 state employees from 10 agencies to be honored by Governor Tom Wolf at the virtual awards presentation.

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