More than 4,800 residents and staff of Pennsylvania nursing homes have died of COVID-19. (Sakchai/Adobe Stock)

July 23, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Advocates for seniors say it’s time for lawmakers to pass a COVID-19 package that protects residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

More than 56,000 residents and staff of nursing homes nationwide have died in the pandemic so far, including 4,800 in Pennsylvania alone. That’s 70% of all novel coronavirus deaths in the state.

But according to AARP Pennsylvania director Bill Johnston-Walsh, in the five months that have passed since the pandemic took hold in this country, federal lawmakers have not taken action to protect the most vulnerable.

“To date, Congress has passed four bills to address the devastating impact of the coronavirus on Americans,” says Johnston-Walsh. “Yet these bills barely touch on the crisis raging in the long-term care facilities.”

He is calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan relief package with polices and dedicated funding to protect seniors living in nursing homes.

Johnston-Walsh points out that some nursing homes in the state are testing residents and staff on a weekly basis while others are testing just once or not at all.

“We need the dollars to give the nursing homes the ability to ensure regular, ongoing testing and to be able to hire the personnel to do that,” says Johnston-Walsh.

He adds that some facilities still lack adequate personal protective equipment, and there still is lack of accountability for how billions of federal dollars are being spent.

Johnston-Walsh notes that some nursing homes may soon start allowing in-person visits by family and friends, something that is extremely important to the well-being of residents.

“In order to do that, we’re going to need the testing, we’re going to need the PPE,” says Johnston-Walsh. “We’re going to need to say to some places you’re not safe enough to have family members come into the facility but let’s get some dollars and do some virtual visitation.”

He says elected leaders need to act now to protect Pennsylvania’s long-term care residents and staff before the death toll rises even higher.

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Andrea Sears, Public News Service – PA