Senate Approves Critical New Resources for Facilities and Programs Supporting Older Adults, First Responders


HARRISBURG—The state Senate today approved new funding to provide a critical layer of support for nursing homes and long-term living programs, including those allowing seniors to continue to live in the community, and volunteer fire and EMS companies that are struggling due to COVID-19, according to Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) who voted in favor of the legislation.

Senate Bill 1122 would distribute $507 million in federal money to nursing homes and other organizations supporting long-term living programs to ease the considerable strain placed on these organizations by COVID-19.

The measure would also establish a special one-time grant program for Pennsylvania’s volunteer fire companies and EMS squads as they address the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The COVID-19 Crisis Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program would provide a total of $31 million in grants to organizations that were approved for annual funding by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and the office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC).

Sen. Baker offered the following remarks during the vote:

“Everyone here realizes that dealing with the fear and uncertainty and risk of the coronavirus requires decisive action. The virus has no respect for laws, or procedures, or process, or boundaries, or projections, or assumptions, or beliefs. 

“There are tragic situations across our communities where the actions of state government during this crisis have been beyond insufficient, at best. That applies to our nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The numbers tell a distressing tale. Too many cases. Too many deaths. Too much risk for the courageous and heroic care providers. Too little protective and preventive supplies available for patients and providers. Too little insight and oversight. Those shortcomings have consequences well beyond the walls of the facilities. The tragic numbers inside, complicate the outside efforts to attempt to resume lives and livelihoods.

“While each of us has heartbreaking and fearful stories from constituents, I will relate some that have deeply impressed on me the scope and severity of the situation in my region.

“My office received a call from Ginny Jorda,, frantic to obtain details about her elderly father who was in his 90’s and admitted to a Luzerne County nursing facility. Ginny was distressed about the number of deaths that were occurring at this particular facility.

She was asking for a special contact from DOH to answer her questions and allay her concerns. Instead, the department simply advised her to have a conversation with the facility administrator and check for DOH’s guidance on its website. Unfortunately, Ginny never received the answers she sought, and her father passed away a short time later. To top it off, she has a sister who is a resident at White Haven Center, who will be displaced with that closure –two tragic circumstances.

“Coronavirus claimed the life of 88-year-old Delores Shershen, a feisty, unforgettable fan of Bishop O’Reilly and Holy Redeemer Boys Basketball teams. What started when her grandson, Jared, played on the state championship team, continued for many years – this super fan was unlike other grandmothers. Delores quickly became the team’s official “towel lady,” attending every game, providing snacks, drinks, and becoming one of their biggest supporters. Delores owned a craft and floral shop which was located next to the office for many years. She worked side-by-side with her only daughter, Joanie. She was an unforgettable force and a wonderful lady. Delores was in rehab recovering after breaking a hip and planning to return home. Unfortunately, in April she tested positive. While her positive attitude led her to initially believe she would beat COVID, she died a week later.  Like many families, Joanie could only speak to her mom by phone. It’s Delores’ last words that broke Joanie’s heart because she never got to hold her hand again. “I’m so scared, please, please, help me.” Like many COVID patients, Delores passed alone, without her beloved family by her side.

“Yesterday, retired Dallas Police Chief Carl Miers called after a frustrating round and round conversation with DOH trying to gather information on the status of nursing facilities in the region and whether they had COVID exposure. His wife of 53 years has been hospitalized, and he was told she needs to go to a facility for short term care. Frustrated by the lack of transparency and details, he relayed, “I can’t and won’t send my wife with underlying medical conditions into a care setting that could put her at risk. I want answers, but I keep getting stonewalled. Why won’t they release the data?”

“These are just a few of the many calls and questions from families.

“We cannot bring back what has been lost in precious lives and critical time. But we can make a concerted effort to improve the conditions in care facilities going forward. This legislation is more than warranted.  It is our obligation. For families and health care professionals who are starting to doubt the wisdom and commitment of state government, this is a much-awaited answer. These bills are a recognition that we are talking to people about their fears and their hopes and working to address this situation.”

Jen Wilson

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