August 19, 2020

Pennsylvania orders assisted living communities to provide respirators to COVID-19 caregivers

McKnight Senior Living

Assisted living community and personal care home operators in Pennsylvania will be required to provide respirators to all staff members providing direct care to residents with COVID-19 or working in COVID units by Aug. 27 under an order issued Monday.

The order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health also applies to nursing homes and private intermediate care facilities. At a minimum, covered facilities must provide respirators, such as N95 masks, to staff members at the beginning of their shifts. The order also tasks operators with developing plans to obtain and distribute personal protective equipment.

Margie Zelenak, executive director for the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association, told McKnight’s Senior Living she has “multiple concerns” with the order.

“At this time, as we’re all trying to comply with universal testing guidelines that need to be completed by Aug. 31 and reopening guidance, this is just another overwhelming burden on our members to comply with in 10 days,” she said. “People are having difficulty finding N95 masks and getting staff tested. So where are they to get this, and how are they paying for it?”

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said it’s been an “almost daily struggle” for operators to secure necessary PPE. The latest order, he added, replaces guidance released less than two weeks ago stating that face masks are an “acceptable” alternative to N95 masks.

“Once again, the goal posts have shifted, leaving providers scrambling to find these masks with only 10 days until the order is enforced by the state. On behalf of long-term care providers statewide, we are urging our state government to work with us to ensure staff and residents remain safe,” Shamberg said. “Providers are, once again, being tasked with finding emergency supplies of PPE in addition to caring for their residents. Our healthcare heroes need support — not order after order — to successfully mitigate COVID-19.”

Shamberg said that emergency stockpiles of PPE have been secured by the state, and six Regional Response Health Collaborative Programs were tasked with securing PPE for long-term care facilities. In addition, $50 million in funding was allocated months ago to provide emergency PPE to assisted living communities and personal care homes around the state. Zelenak said providers are still waiting for those checks to arrive.

“Providers must be able to rely on these resources,” Shamberg said.

LeadingAge Pennsylvania said it supports efforts to protect residents and staff members, but supply chain shortages remain, and state funding does not cover the costs associated with PPE and testing requirements.

“We have additional concern that personal care homes and assisted living residences, in particular, will have difficulty compiling, given they are only just beginning to receive CARES Act funding, and it will likely not be enough to cover universal testing,” a spokesperson for LeadingAge said. “We hope that this order does not fall to our members as an unfunded mandate they will not have the resources to meet, and look forward to working closely with the administration and lawmakers to address these critical funding needs.”

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