‘Congress has to do more’: Pa. senator calls for extra care for seniors and others in need

'Congress has to do more.' Sen. Casey calls for extra care for seniors and others in need

The very first congressional hearing was held Thursday to address how the elderly have been impacted by the novel coronavirus.

More than two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have been in nursing homes. This week -- we got updated numbers for nursing homes in the Pittsburgh area.

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With those grim numbers in sharp focus, the Senate Committee on Aging took up the issue.

Key issues were explored regarding the overwhelming number of deaths at nursing homes – from understaffing to lack of testing and personal protective equipment.

"The idea that the nation can't produce enough masks or gloves or PPE for everyone who needs it is an appalling failure," said Pa. Sen. Bob Casey, the minority chair of the committee.

Nursing homes were forced to make their own masks, and family members begged to have their loved ones tested. Both issues were raised early on in this crisis, but response was slow.

Now experts say focusing just on symptomatic patients was a painful mistake.

"By then it's too late. There's asymptomatic spread. And given the close proximity and the fact that staff go from resident to resident every day, the virus ... can spread throughout the facility,” said University of Chicago professor Dr. Tamera Konetzka, Ph.D.

Under-staffing at facilities was another major problem. Brighton Rehab in Beaver County had more coronavirus deaths than any other nursing home in the state.

Now there’s a call for pandemic premium pay for front-line workers.

A newly released government report said persistent lapses in "infection prevention and control" was an issue at more than 80% of nursing homes.

Casey just introduced a new bill calling for $20 billion in funding to do more to help long-term care facilities.

“I don’t want to be sitting here in December because we didn’t do enough on testing and personal protective equipment and find out that another 4,700 or 5,000 Pennsylvanians have died," said Casey.

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