Virus aid cut to nursing homes

Facilities scramble to replace shortfall

A $175-million program involving 11 hospital systems that helped long-term care facilities deal with COVID-19 for six months ended recently, and the Wolf administration has replaced it with a less-well-funded program to hold things together through the end of February.

The administration asked for federal money to keep the Regional Response Health Collaboration Program going, but the recent federal stimulus didn’t provide it, so agencies cobbled together a new program, finding money to support it for two months, even as it plans to ask the Biden administration for funding to upgrade to the previous level, according to information presented at a joint agency news conference Wednesday.

After the Regional Response pro­­gram began in July, outbreaks at long-term care facilities were smaller, shorter and less severe, and deaths were fewer, with the average number of cases per outbreak down 60%, the average number of hospitalizations down 79% and the average number of fatalities down 77%, said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller.

The program provided call center help, clinical assessments, infection control analyses, personal protective equipment and rapid response staffing, along with testing and education — helping not only to reduce illness in long-term care facilities, but helping keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, Miller said.

COVID-19 vaccinations have started in long-term care facilities, but the need continues, according to Miller.

Like the old program, the new one will offer most of those same services, officials said.

But the duration and volume of support will be less, according to Keara Klinepeter, senior adviser to the Secretary of Health.

With the old program, emergency staffing help could last 14 days, but with the new one, it will last three to five days, except in extraordinary circumstances, Klinepeter said.

“Staffing is one of the most significant challenges that long-term care facilities face,” Klinepeter said. “Due to the budget, three to five days is what we can offer.”

The program will try to make up for the shortfall by helping facilities hire temporary agency staffing and sometimes by deploying the National Guard, she said.

Similarly, the old program helped with contact tracing, but the new one will not — although county health departments and the DoH are expected to take up some of that slack, Klinepeter said.

With the old program, there were lots of on-site assessments, but with the new one, assessments will be virtual, because it’s more efficient, she said.

The administration has organized the replacement program under the Long-Term Care Task Force, which will work with the 10 hospital systems that have agreed to continue.

Those hospitals will deploy Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams for rapid responses.

The task force also will work with contractors Maxim Healthcare Staffing, General Healthcare Resources for emergency staffing and with Curative Labs for testing, according to an administration

news release.

Authorized by the General Assembly and paid for with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money, the old program cost $28 million a month, according to Klinepeter.

Funded by the administration with $12 million of federally reimbursable money for January and February, plus the first two months of a half-year, $28.5-million contract with Curative, the new program will cost $10.75 million a month, according to information provided by Klinepeter. That is less than 40% of the funding level of the old program.

The money to pay Curative is coming from several DoH sources, Klinepeter said.

“We leveraged just about every available funding source,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“We really need the federal government to allocate additional dollars,” Miller said. “I hope we don’t see a catastrophic impact of this pared-down program.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.


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