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Kudos to the state for increasing nursing home vaccinations, but it must do much more to protect seniors | PennLive Editorial

Patriot-News - 2/26/2021

Gov. Wolf has announced the state has reached a milestone in getting vaccines into nursing facilities to help protect the most vulnerable people from COVID-19. He says more than 600 skilled nursing facilities have received first and second doses of the vaccine, and more than 315,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in all long-term care facilities.

This is good news and deserves applause. It shows significant progress is being made in battling this pandemic. But much more needs to be done to protect nursing homes residents and those in assisted care facilities, as well as to get vaccines to seniors and people with disabilities who are living in their own homes.

Protecting seniors in nursing facilities is more than just vaccinating residents, it’s also ensuring they have quality care, as well as adequate staff and equipment to deal with the pandemic.

A coalition of non-profit organizations operating senior care facilities are sounding an alarm about threats to quality care in nursing facilities in the state, and the governor and state legislators should listen.

Curt Stutzman, CEO of Messiah Lifeways; Jarred Leo, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, and Adam Marles, President/CEO, LeadingAge PA recently met with the Editorial Board of PennLive and The Patriot-News and warned they are facing tough decisions about how to meet the financial challenges brought on by COVID-19.

They maintain state funding for nursing facilities is woefully inadequate, considering the significant costs of PPEs and other costs to keep the virus at bay. And there is the paramount issue of maintaining adequate staff and paying them what they are worth.

They argue the thousands of dollars in unforeseen additional costs is forcing many facilities to reduce the quality of care being offered to senior residents, reduce the number of residents or close entirely.

They make a strong argument for asking the governor and state legislators to take another look at the funding model and state support, especially considering the costs many facilities are facing to keep quality personnel and maintain high standards of care in a global public health crisis.

Workers at nursing homes are on the front lines of the pandemic, and it’s understandable many will not risk their lives and those of their family members for a low-paying job at a place that doesn’t provide them adequate protection.

That’s why so many have quit and why turnover has been at crisis levels in nursing homes throughout the state. Many people deem it safer to work in a warehouse or to just collect unemployment, especially if cases of COVID break out among elderly residents.

This is also a critical issue for seniors and people with disabilities at home, who are facing the same issues related to fair compensation for personal healthcare workers whose compensation is determined by the state.

The governor and legislators should listen to these concerns and create a mechanism to involve stakeholders in finding solutions to what will be ongoing issues related to senior care as we continue to battle COVID-19 and its variants.

Non-profit companies operating nursing homes in our region do not feel they are being heard, and it’s a familiar refrain as state leaders have isolated themselves from the very communities they are trying to serve during this pandemic.

This closed-door style of leadership only undermines trust and increases the kind of animosity that led the three organizations representing 700 nursing homes to file a lawsuit against the state.

The nursing home executives who met with our Editorial Board say they felt left out of decision making and could not get clarity on how the administration allocated $153 million in federal COVID-19 funding they say should have gone directly to nursing homes.

The state says the companies are incorrect in their charges that money intended for nursing homes was used to plug holes in other parts of the Department of Human Services budget that allocates funds for nursing homes. But it should be easy to show where the money went and why the nursing homes saw none of it. And the governor and lawmakers should welcome input from those struggling to protect seniors in this crisis.

So kudos on the increased vaccinations in nursing homes. Now let’s make sure seniors in and outside of these facilities get the support they need from the state to survive COVID-19.

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