Pennsylvania AG Opens Criminal Probe Into Nursing Homes

May 12, 2020

Pennsylvania's top prosecutor has opened criminal investigations into several nursing homes amid a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 2,600 residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults, more than two-thirds of the state’s death toll, his office announced Tuesday.

The attorney general's office did not say how many facilities it is investigating, or reveal their names or provide any other details about the specific allegations. In general, the attorney general's office has jurisdiction in manners of criminal neglect.

“We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a written statement. “While we salute and appreciate nursing home staff on the front lines during this pandemic, we will not tolerate those who mistreat our seniors and break the law.”

He said “active criminal investigations" are underway.

Messages seeking comment were left with a pair of nursing home industry trade groups, LeadingAge PA and the Pennsylvania Health Care Association.

The virus has sickened about 12,000 residents of 540 nursing and personal care homes, accounting for about one-fifth of the state’s confirmed infections, according to the Health Department. The National Guard has been deployed to more than a dozen homes with severe outbreaks.

Shapiro's involvement comes as the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf rolls out a plan to begin universal coronavirus testing of every resident and employee of nursing homes and other facilities that provide care for older adults.

Wolf said Tuesday his administration will undertake the surveillance testing, with a goal of testing every resident and employee once a week, given the pandemic's tremendous toll on nursing homes.

"What we are going to do, which I think is fairly radical, is make sure that we are doing surveillance testing," Wolf said on a telephone news conference.

Wolf's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, had previously said there was not enough available testing to test everyone in a nursing home.

She also had said that testing everyone wasn't useful unless they were to be repeatedly tested to continue checking to see whether they became infected later.

Pennsylvania added more than 800 new infections and 75 deaths to the state’s COVID-19 toll on Tuesday.

Overall, the Health Department said more than 3,800 people in the state have died from the pandemic and nearly 58,000 have been sickened.

In other Pennsylvania pandemic developments:

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NATIONAL GUARD

The Pennsylvania National Guard says some personnel are sick with COVID-19, including those who contracted the virus that causes the disease while deployed.

Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Keith Hickox said his agency has helped 13 long-term care facilities in response to the pandemic.

It’s nearly impossible to know how the Guard troops became sick, he said, describing the total number as relatively low, considering what they have been doing.

Hickox said that medical staffers have helped out at nine facilities and that training has been done at five of them. The Guard is not disclosing the list of nursing homes and similar places they have been assisting.

The effort has involved more than 180 medical workers, mostly helping with comparatively less sick residents, so the facilities’ own medical staff can focus where patients need it the most.

Others with the Guard are providing logistical help, cleaning, and training of facility staffers in the use of personal protective gear and decontamination, Hickox said.

All members are quarantined and tested when high-risk missions are completed, he said.