Lawmakers unhappy with decision on nursing homes

A decision by the Justice Department to forgo an investigation into whether the state violated federal laws by ordering nursing homes to accept residents treated for COVID-19 in a hospital has drawn criticism and questions from area lawmakers.

“My feeling is why not investigate it?” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said. “It gets back to transparency, letting the citizenry know what the facts are.”

Wheeland noted the deaths of some two-dozen residents of the ManorCare Health Service Jersey Shore during the early weeks of the pandemic in 2020.

“It was sad,” he said. “It really offered insights into how poorly the government operates in a state of emergency.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, in an email to the Sun-Gazette, criticized the Wolf Administration’s “reckless policies” for putting so many senior citizens at risk.

“Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Governor Tom Wolf personally oversaw the readmission of COVID-positive patients into the state’s nursing home facilities, knowing full well that this virus disproportionately affects the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. As a result, more than half of the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes. It is shocking that the Department of Justice believes this matter is not worth investigating–I, along with countless grieving Pennsylvanians, strongly disagree with its decision.”

State Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, said he was looking forward to a probe into the nursing homes and the deaths that occurred in those facilities across the state as a result of COVID-19.

He agreed that the Wolf Administration certainly must accept blame for what happened.

“The Administration did not consult with the House or Senate before making these decisions,” he said.

In 2020, many nursing homes and long-term facilities struggled to contain the virus, which public health experts attribute to lack of trained staff, testing supplies and protective equipment that might otherwise have slowed the spread of COVID-19.

The Justice Department decision this week comes 11 months after informing governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan that it wanted information to determine whether orders in those states may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.

Wheeland said he finds its frustrating that government is not more open.

“We need more transparency, not less,” he said.


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