Most area nursing homes have completed the first requirement of a state plan to begin allowing some family visits and group activities, based on the Department of Health’s report on Tuesday.
All 693 skilled-care nursing homes have completed universal COVID-19 testing of staff and residents as ordered on June 8, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.
The state report indicates only two nursing homes had residents or staff test positive. Those with no confirmed cases may develop a plan to move toward limited reopening, Levine said.
“By completing universal testing, facilities are one step closer to achieving all of the goals set out to allow safe visitation, communal dining and activities,” she said.
As part of the reopening plans, homes must show they can continue screening and testing employees and staff to quickly identify and isolate new COVID-19 cases.
Levine would not put a timeline on in-person family visits for nursing homes.
“I would really suggest the family call the facility,” she said. “They will know exactly where they are (in the reopening process).
“It is a balance between protecting the health of the individuals in the facilities versus allowing the visitors. I know it's a really difficult balance but we cannot introduce COVID-19 into those facilities.”
Levine said the health department will continue to provide resources to complete testing.
She cited a new call center network introduced Tuesday to support COVID-19 response in long-term care facilities. The call centers are run and staffed by health systems participating in the Regional Response Health Collaboration Program, which was launched earlier this month.
Participating health systems that serve area counties include UPMC in Somerset County, both UPMC and Allegheny Health Network in Cambria County, Allegheny Health Network in Clearfield and Indiana counties, and Penn State Health in Bedford and Blair counties.
“Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 could arise at any point, and for people living and working in a long-term care facility, quick action and mitigation efforts could be the difference between isolated cases and an outbreak,” Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said in a press release.
“The Regional Response Health Collaboration was established to be a network that long-term care providers can turn to for real-time technical assistance and clinical support, and call centers run by each health system partner will allow facilities across Pennsylvania to know that no matter when they have a question or a challenge arises, they are not alone in this fight.”
Levine noted that all Pennsylvanians can help protect nursing home residents.
“The prevalence of COVID-19 in our nursing homes is directly related to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the communities in which they are located,” she said. “The more the virus is spreading in the communities, the more likely it is that one of our heroic health care workers in a nursing home may contract the virus and unknowingly spread it. So please do your part: Wear a mask.”
The health department's long-term care data illustrate the importance of nursing and personal care homes reporting cases, a department spokesman said.
A list of COVID-19 Cambria County cases in long-term care facilities shows that five facilities have had cases, involving 16 residents and six employees. That information is compiled from lab reports to the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System.
But a weekly spreadsheet showing cases in specific homes only identifies one nursing home and no personal care homes as having cases. The two spreadsheets show data submitted by the nursing homes and personal care homes, spokesman Nate Wardle said.
The nursing home report shows fewer than five cases in staff and fewer than five cases in residents at Cambria Care Center in Ebensburg. Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center's transitional care unit and LaurelWood Care Center show "no data," and all other nursing homes show zero cases. The personal care home spreadsheet includes no Cambria County facilities.
The recorded greeting for LaurelWood's phone system includes an announcement that the home has had five confirmed staff cases and six confirmed COVID-19 cases in residents.
Somerset County's lab-reported data show three facilities affected, with three residents and three staff testing positive. But the home-reported spreadsheet only shows Laurel View Village's personal care unit with "less than five" cases in employees and Siemon's Heritage Personal Care with "less than five" cases in residents.