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EDITORIAL: Real progress at nursing homes is a welcome covid success story

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 2/28/2021

Feb. 27—There are more than 700 nursing homes in Pennsylvania. More than 88,000 people, mostly older individuals, live there — whether for the long term or a short stay.

For the last year, those facilities have been under nervous pressure as seniors and those with preexisting medical conditions like diabetes and heart conditions — exactly the kind of diseases prevalent in long term care — are among the most at risk for covid-19.

The coronavirus pandemic hit nursing homes early, registering some of the first cases. It also hit them hard, planting the seeds of some of the first deadly outbreaks, like the minimum 76 people who died at Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County from a cluster of more than 300 staff and residents who tested positive.

That combination of risk and susceptibility is why nursing homes were among the first places targeted for vaccination.

After some rough patches in recent weeks with vaccine distribution and availability, the state is now pointing to nursing homes as a sign of real progress.

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that all of the Pennsylvania homes covered by the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care — a collaboration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with CVS, Walgreens and Managed Health Care Associates — have received both doses of vaccine.

"The federal pharmacy partnership is saving lives," Wolf said. "It's protecting residents, it's protecting staff, while giving families peace of mind that their loved ones are safe."

And after months and months of issues with how homes like Brighton Rehab are operating and how the vaccines are being distributed and how the state and federal governments are responding to the pandemic, the partnership is doing something else.

It's showing progress.

It is often hard for different branches of the same organization to work seamlessly with each other. Congress has trouble doing it while sitting in the same room.

It is only complicated by adding another organization — much less 50 states and hundreds of nursing homes with thousands of patients. Blend government and the private sector, and sometimes it is almost impossible.

This time, it wasn't. This time it is moving forward. Working through the nursing homes — about 600 of which are covered by the partnership — means the state can focus on all the other vaccines that need to be distributed.

There is still a lot of work to do. A lot of it is behind where it should be. About a third of Phase 1A's

9 million total doses have been administered.

"We want to make sure that when we actually transition into Phase 1B, which is so many valuable workers that have really shown tremendous dedication to our communities throughout this entire covid response, that they're actually able to access a covid vaccine," said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

But the successful work of the partnership shows that working together is more than a pipe dream. After letting the private sector drive vaccine creation, it seems that involving the private sector in distribution also is a formula for success.

Let's hope this is just the start of realizing successful strategies to get the work done.

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