By Lowman S. Henry
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal
The Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a tragic number of deaths in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. Here in Penn’s Woods the tragedy has been compounded by the fact that about 65% of the deaths have occurred in nursing homes or personal care facilities.
And that horrific death rate can be attributed in large measure to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s policies requiring COVID-19 positive patients to be housed in such facilities. Officials need to be held accountable and the first person responsible is Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who should resign immediately – or be fired by Governor Tom Wolf.
As the Coronavirus began its death march across the globe it was immediately known that older persons were most susceptible to the disease. The preponderance of deaths from COVID-19 has been among those with other underlying health problems. Such underlying health problems tend to be more prevalent among older demographics placing them at extreme risk.
In an exposé partially authored by reporters for the Bucks County Courier Times it was revealed that on March 18th – as the Coronavirus pandemic surged across Pennsylvania – Dr. Levine “directed licensed long-term facilities to continue admitting new patients, including those discharged from hospitals but unable to go home, and to readmit current patients after hospital stays.” The order stated: “This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.”
The article reports “Coronavirus spread like wildfire through many nursing homes.” It adds that Dr. Rachel Levine had been forewarned. The American Health Care Association cautioned that her directives put “frail and older adults who reside in nursing homes at risk.”
“At risk” indeed.
Today thousands of older Pennsylvanians have died, trapped in facilities that had no way of preparing to handle the rapidly spreading virus. Worse, sources have told me that the Department of Health has cut back on inspections at such facilities. They have even denied testing supplies to at least one nursing home which had requested kits to test staff for Coronavirus.
This adds up to epic ineptitude such that those responsible no longer have the credibility or public confidence to continue in office.
The depth of devastation these policies have wrought doesn’t stop with the horrendous number of nursing home deaths – tragic as those are. Those deaths have inflated the case and death numbers in many counties. Those numbers are – depending on the day – being used to determine when stay-at-home and business closure “orders” are relaxed.
Factor out the nursing home deaths and many counties could immediately begin to lift stay at home orders and to safely re-open businesses. Dr. Levine and Governor Wolf have rebuffed efforts by lawmakers and county officials to change the metric to not include nursing home deaths so the process of rebuilding our state’s economy can begin.
There, too, the policies of Gov. Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine have had devastatingly adverse health effects. Some counties are reporting a spike in opioid overdoses and deaths. Suicide rates and domestic assaults are on the increase as people cope with the loss of contact with family members, loss of jobs, and even the loss of businesses.
By continuing to count nursing home deaths, greatly impacted by state health department policies, the Wolf Administration is artificially delaying the resumption of business activity. Adding fuel to the fire are constantly changing metrics and statistical adjustments. From an attempt to inflate the numbers by including “presumed” cases in case and death numbers to county Coroners challenging death counts, the Department of Health’s statistical reporting has lost all credibility.
The state legislature has expressed the will of the people by passing numerous bills aimed at opening up various segments of the state’s economy – only to have them fall victim to the governor’s veto pen. County Commissioners in all regions of Pennsylvania have petitioned the Governor to allow their counties to begin the process of re-opening. He has turned a deaf ear.
Thus, adverse health consequences and economic pain continues to grow because of the Governor’s stubborn reliance on the advice of a state Health Secretary whose policies have made a bad situation significantly worse. Governor Wolf needs new advisors. The Pennsylvania Department of Health needs a new leader.
It is time for Rachel Levine to go.