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Safety for those in long-term care facilities still a top priority

HARRISBURG — The state Department of Health has made many efforts in mitigating the spread of the virus and to protect staff and residents of long-term care facilities during the ongoing pandemic, including direct assistance during outbreaks, education and resources for vaccinations as well as personal protective equipment.

“We knew early on that this group (seniors) was going to be particularly vulnerable so we took immediate steps to protect them,” said DOH Executive Deputy Secretary, Keara Klinepeter. “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many Pennsylvanians, but the most significantly affected have been our vulnerable seniors and other individuals in long-term care facilities.”

Klinepeter said that the DOH alongside the department’s Healthcare Associated Infection Team provided direct consultations to every facility with at least one case.

“Intensive support” and consultations were given to facilities who had outbreaks.

ECRI, who Klinepeter said is the infection control contractor for the state, has also provided additional assistance and resources to facilities with outbreaks.

This contractor provided these “intensive consultations” to 150 long-term care facilities between April of 2020 and January 2021.

“More than 65,000 test have been paid for by the Department to help ensure the spread is being stopped,” Klinepeter said.

As of now, 79 percent of residents and 53 percent of staff in these facilities have been vaccinated. This data was provided by the facilities themselves and given to the Department.

Klinepeter said this data will be updated again in June.

“This has been an extraordinarily long year,” Klinepeter said. “The vaccine has been instrumental (in making sure social needs of residents are met).”

“What we know is how the virus spreads…through a high level of community transmission,” she added. “This is why we are strongly encouraging (staff) to be vaccinated.”

The Regional Response Health Collaborative program, now known as the Regional Congregate Care Assistance Team was created as part of a $150 million initiative to bring rapid response teams to facilities in need. This program has also helped provide information on infection prevention, vaccinations and testing and more.

Vaccinations are provided to these facilities through three federal pharmacy partners who then are available for state facilities to reach out for vaccines.

The DOH has also worked diligently to make sure long-term care facilities have enough resources as well as staff and equipment to help mitigate the spread of the virus within facilities.

According to Klinepeter, the DOH has provided many items to long-term care facilities in the state as of April l1 including:

• more than 1 million gowns

• 560,000 face shields

• 15 million gloves

• 3.8 million respirators

• 106,000 coveralls

• more than 2.8 million procedure masks

• more than 590,000 bottles of hand sanitizer

For more information on the strategy and data for these facilities, please visit https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Vaccine/Pages/Guidance/LTCF-Vaccine-Strategy.aspx.

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