Pennsylvania made nursing homes accept COVID patients, but health secretary's mom was moved to hotel

Around 70 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the state are in nursing homes

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Rachel Levine
PA Secretary of Health Rachel Levine
(The Washington Post/Getty)
Updated: May 13, 2020 - 1:57pm

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Pennsylvania's secretary of Health revealed this week that her 95-year-old mother was transferred from a nursing home facilities into a hotel – as the state government was ordering those facilities to accept patients who had tested positive with the coronavirus. 

That state policy, issued on March 18, stipulated that elderly care facilities "must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable," including residents who had contracted COVID-19. The policy was meant to "alleviate the increasing burden in the acute care settings."

That rule may have contributed to the significant death toll the pandemic has wrought in the state's care facilities: The overwhelming majority of deaths in the state have occurred in nursing homes, more than 2,400 of the state's nearly 4,000 deaths. 

Yet even as coronavirus-positive patients were being funneled into state nursing homes, the state's Secretary of Health, Rachel Levine, removed her mother from one of those facilities, lodging her instead in a hotel. 

Levine made that admission on Tuesday while speaking to Pennsylvania media, stating that "she and her sister complied with their mother’s request to move from a personal care home to another location," the Allentown Morning Call reported

The admission raises concerns that state health officials may have been aware of the potentially devastating threat that COVID-19 posed to nursing homes even as they ordered those facilities to accept COVID-19 patients.

Multiple states in recent weeks have been grappling with deadly coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes. Data indicate that COVID-19 is disproportionately fatal toward older and sicker individuals, two demographics overrepresented at care facilities across the country. 

New York State has seen significant numbers of care facility deaths over the past several months, a fact that likely caused Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reverse the state's earlier directive, similar to Pennsylvania's, that nursing homes would be required to accept COVID-19 patients.

Emails that surfaced last month showed state officials refusing one nursing home's request to transfer coronavirus patients into emergency care facilities. 

In Europe, meanwhile, more than half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing home facilities.

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