Pa. Department of Health report sheds light on coronavirus impact in long-term care facilities

Megan Guza

Brighton Rehab officials said early on in the pandemic that they would operate under the assumption that all of the care home residents were positive for the coronavirus.

That has nearly come to pass, data shows: of the approximately 470 residents at the Beaver County facility, more than three-quarters of them have tested positive since then.

The embattled center has the most coronavirus cases and deaths of any long-term care home in the state, according to detailed data released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, making it one of the starkest examples of the struggle to contain the virus in those types of settings.

The Department of Health released resident and employee case counts as well as the death tolls for each long-term care facility that has at least one case. In a facility where any of those categories was less than five, the information was redacted. Facilities with no positive cases among residents or staff were not listed.

For weeks, state officials cited privacy concerns as the main roadblock to releasing facility-level data. Instead, the Department of Health reported the number of cases and deaths across affected nursing homes in each county.

In Allegheny County, 36 care facilities have at least one case among residents or staff, according to the data.

In Westmoreland County, two facilities made up the bulk of the more than 130 care center cases: Pleasant Ridge in Allegheny Township and The Grove at Latrobe. The facilities had 44 and 43 resident cases, respectively. Pleasant Ridge had fewer than five ill employees, and The Grove reported five.

The Grove reportedly has had eight resident deaths, with seven at Pleasant Ridge. There have been six deaths each at Ligonier Garden and Loyalhanna Care Center. Loyalhanna has had 30 resident cases and 18 employee cases, according to state figures.

The state’s figures are incorrect, said Kelly Pynos, the administrator at Loyalhanna. She said they have had 20 confirmed cases of the virus among residents but 21 among employees.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as possible with our residents and families,” Pynos said. “Since these numbers are not correct, that’s a little concerning to me. We certainly don’t want to create panic in the community or in our facility. My fear is that I’ll be getting calls from families saying, ‘You told us you had this many and the state said you have this many.’ They tend to believe the government statistics first.”

Officials at Quiet Ridge Manor in McKeesport also took issue with some of the numbers. The health department is reporting seven residents have died, but Executive Director Toni Petrulak said three of those should not count, as they were moved elsewhere before they died.

“Four of them I will claim,” Petrulak said. “Three of them, no, because they were discharged before I was notified that they even tested positive.”

She also said 12 of the facility’s 22 residents have tested positive, not 17 as reported by the state.

“I’m very proud of how myself and my staff handled this,” Petrulak said. “We were honest and upfront. We reported everything.”

Detailed numbers

Last week, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said that, after receiving guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, data on specific facilities would be released. On Sunday, the centers began reporting numbers using the same platform as hospitals.

Levine told the Tribune-Review last week the intent was not to keep the public in the dark.

“We were specifically waiting for this federal guidance so the data we put out is consistent with the data they put out,” she said. “It wasn’t that we were trying to hide something in any way.”

In all, about 560 facilities across the state have seen at least one case of covid-19 among residents, staff or both. Across those facilities, just over 13,800 residents and nearly 2,200 employees have contracted the virus. Of the more than 4,600 coronavirus deaths statewide, 3,145 — more than two-thirds — have been in care homes.

Brighton issued its statement in early April, saying such an approach allowed staffers to be more protective of asymptomatic staff and residents. But the sprawling four-story complex, equipped with 589 beds and home to around 470 residents, still has had 358 residents test positive and 76 die from covid-19, data shows.

Twenty-five employees also have contracted the virus, the only category in which Brighton does not lead the state.

Levine on Tuesday said just because a facility has seen an outbreak does not mean that facility has broken any rules, and the outbreak should not be taken as a reflection on the quality of care. She also reiterated that nursing homes fall under the Department of Health jurisdiction, but everyday operations fall to each facility.

“We license these facilities, we regulate the facilities, we inspect these facilities,” Levine said. “We support the facilities. But we don’t operate the facilities. Actually, the owners operate these facilities.”

“The covid-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge for long-term care facilities across the country due to the high vulnerability of the residents who live in them,” the nursing home said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening. “At Brighton, we have worked tirelessly since the onset of the virus to prevent its spread.

“We are in constant communication with the Department of Health and have adhered to all CDC and DOH protocols through this crisis.

“Additionally, we have called for help from the National Guard for staffing support and from the State for additional testing, staffing, and PPE to protect our residents and staff.

“We are thankful for the recent assistance we received and for the continued dedication and professionalism of our staff.”

Local centers

Of the three dozen facilities with positive cases reported in Allegheny County, resident cases were redacted for 14, meaning one to four people have tested positive. No resident cases were reported at 10 centers.

Across the remaining dozen facilities, there are 394 covid-19 cases among residents. Those with the highest numbers are Kane Community Living Center’s Glen Hazel location with 104 cases and Caring Heights in Kennedy with 65. At the latter, 28 residents have died.

Nancy A. Istenes, the chief medical officer at Caring Heights, said that as of Tuesday,the facility had no active covid-19 cases.

“The facility acts in the best interest of its residents to promote their health, safety, and welfare,” Istenes said. “We have and continue to work closely with the Department of Health and follow all necessary guidelines and regulations.”

In terms of employees, 18 facilities have fewer than five employees who have tested positive. Twelve facilities reported no ill employees. Across the remaining six facilities, there are 91 employees who have contracted the virus.

There are 62 covid-19 positive residents at St. Barnabas Nursing Home. That represent 80% of Richland’s 77 cases. Thirty-one residents there have died from the virus — the highest count among care homes in the county.

The county-owned Kane Community Living Centers have been reporting numbers daily at its four facilities. Twenty-one residents at the Glen Hazel facility have died. No deaths have been reported in the Scott, McKeesport or Ross locations.

Four Westmoreland facilities reported a handful of employees who have tested positive, though the exact number was redacted.

County officials said one fill-in nurse at Westmoreland Manor resulted in that facility making the list.

County Commissioner Doug Chew said the nurse was not symptomatic and had passed multiple temperature screenings before being identified through state contact tracers, who discovered she had contact with another person who tested positive at another facility.

“We learned about the case a month ago,” Chew said, “and we’ve had no additional cases.”

Staff writers Madasyn Lee, Patrick Varine and Rich Cholodofsky contributed.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter .

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