HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania last week used a hearing to ask Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health official whether it was a mistake to order COVID-19 patients to be readmitted to nursing homes, although it is far from clear that the policy led to an outbreak or death.
Since Pennsylvania’s first coronavirus spike in cases last spring, Republicans have accused Wolf’s administration of fueling the outbreak in nursing homes by ordering the facilities to readmit residents who had been treated for the virus in a hospital.
Despite a high number of nursing home deaths in Pennsylvania, no investigation has thus far pointed to the policy as a cause of death or outbreak. Meanwhile, nursing home trade associations in Pennsylvania say they are not aware of a nursing home that was forced to accept a COVID-positive patient against its will, or that the order led to death or an outbreak.
Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny, repeated that claim — that the order “contributed” to Pennsylvania’s nursing home deaths — during Thursday’s Appropriations Committee hearing. She also urged acting Health Secretary Alison Beam to say that the department’s order, issued last March 18 amid fears of a surge of COVID-19 patients needing medical treatment, was a mistake.
“Could you just say to us today that that March 18 order was a mistake?” Mihalek said.
Beam responded that the state wanted to ensure that hospitals weren’t overrun and, “to the extent that it could be done safely,” allow nursing home residents to recover in their homes.
Beam also said the state’s order “clarified” confusing federal guidance that nursing homes could accept readmissions of residents treated for the virus in hospitals.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, followed up, saying, “the fact that you are avoiding the answer clearly makes it clear that it was a mistake.”
The Department of Health has not released data on the number of COVID-19 patients who were released back to nursing homes, or which nursing homes readmitted such patients.
In August, the Justice Department, under then-President Donald Trump, sent letters to the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and New Jersey — all Democrats — seeking data on whether they violated federal law and caused deaths by ordering nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals.