Changes in state’s criteria for testing could make difference for families with residents in nursing homes

Changes in state’s criteria for testing could make difference for families with residents in nursing homes

As 11 Investigates has been reporting for weeks, the rationing of tests — particularly when it came to the most vulnerable in nursing homes — was the source of great frustration for families and some nursing home owners.

But now, those tests are finally easier to get.

"We have liberalized our criteria significantly since the resources we need to do testing has become much better,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

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Levine said the state wants anyone with symptoms to get a COVID-19 test, something the family of 93-year old Teresa Vetea, a resident at UPMC Cranberry Place, wishes would have happened a lot sooner.

Dan Vete's mom was refused a test three weeks ago even though she had multiple risk factors and symptoms.

"How could you not test for someone in that situation? I'm wondering, is there a bit of discrimination towards older people?" Vete said.

As 11 Investigates reported, some nursing home owners said they were even told by Department of Health employees to ration tests.

"The comment that was made was, 'Let's not waste supplies and test everyone because, even though someone would possibly test negative today, they could possibly test positive three days from now,'" said James Cox, owner of Paramount Senior Living.

That rationale left many people confused and concerned, despite the state repeatedly saying the elderly were a priority.

Another point of contention was whether the state will make public the results of positive cases and deaths at specific nursing homes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent recently called for, but Levine is still not committing to do it.

"We're discussing whether we're going to be able to release that. It is a balance between patient confidentiality and also the laws and regulations that govern our release of data versus the public's right to know,” Levine said.

Families said it's the public's right to know during this health crisis.

Levine said she’ll announce her decision sometime this week.

11 Investigates: Still no answers from Pa. health secretary about nursing home concerns