PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

Attorney General Shapiro says he has opened criminal investigations into several nursing homes

Posted

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced today that over the past several weeks his office has opened criminal investigations into several Pennsylvania nursing homes.

Shapiro said in a press release that his office will investigate any nursing home engaging in criminal neglect of patients and residents. He did not offer any details as to how many nursing homes are being investigated or where they are located.

According to state Department of Health numbers released Tuesday, there are 12,130 resident cases of COVID-19 and 1,724 cases among employees in nursing and personal care homes statewide, for a total of 13,854 at 540 facilities in 44 counties. The state has 57,991 cases total.

Out of the total deaths, 2,611 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities — about 68.6 percent.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican from Franklin County, called Monday for the resignation of Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, saying her actions were a major factor in the large number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state’s nursing homes.

“These failings are compounded by being complicit in the virus spreading through our elder care homes, triggered by unscientific and illogical directives, forcing them to readmit COVID-19 patients. New York State has just reversed this disastrous policy,” Mastriano said. “Let me state this clearly, this order by Secretary Levine is responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,500 of our citizens, and displays the gross incompetence of someone unfit for office. The bottom line is Secretary Levine has failed to protect our most vulnerable population.”

Levine said that she has no intention of resigning and Gov. Tom Wolf said she is doing a “phenomenal job.”

The National Guard has been called to assist at more than 10 nursing homes statewide, including Brighton Rehab and Wellness Center in Beaver County, which has the worst nursing home outbreak in the state, with at least 71 killed by the coronavirus.

Levine said Monday that her department will begin to release details about the coronavirus at specific nursing homes across the state by the end of the week. Currently, it only provides how many facilities have cases and the total number of residents and employees in each county who have tested positive.

While the Pennsylvania Department of Health has primary regulating and licensing authority of nursing homes throughout the commonwealth, the attorney general’s Care-Dependent Neglect Team, within the Medicaid Fraud Control Section, has jurisdiction on matters of criminal neglect, his office said.

“Protecting seniors and our most vulnerable in the care of others, is one of the core responsibilities of my office, and we’re stepping up to protect older Pennsylvanians during this crisis. We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones. 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 already underway and we encourage people to share relevant complaints with us on our special tip line so we can best protect people in nursing homes.”

Shapiro’s announcement came on the same day that Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania will test every resident and employee of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities on a weekly basis for the coronavirus.

Under Pennsylvania law, Neglect of a Care-Dependent Person occurs under a high threshold of certain circumstances when the caretaker of a person fails to properly provide for their health, safety, and welfare.

The Attorney General’s Neglect Team reviews allegations regarding specific instances of mistreatment of care-dependent adults who are endangered or suffer injury resulting from caretaker neglect to determine whether criminal charges are appropriate, and if so, prosecutes such cases. The attorney general’s office receives referrals for criminal investigation from local officials, the Department of Health, and members of the public.

The attorney general’s office is launching a public email for criminal complaints and reports of neglect in nursing home communities at neglect-COVID@attorneygeneral.gov. For concerns relating to wellness checks, adequate PPE, or COVID-19 testing within a facility, contact Department of Health at 800-254-5164.

For emergencies involving immediate danger to the person, call 911 or 877-PA-HEALTH.