National Guard brings hope to families at Brighton Rehab

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — For the first time in a long time, families say there is a sense of hope at Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County. The facility is at the center of a major COVID-19 outbreak in western Pennsylvania, with hundreds of residents testing positive and more than 70 deaths.

11 Investigates has been telling the stories of desperate families with residents at Brighton for weeks, and this past Friday, U.S Rep. Conor Lamb called for a federal investigation. Now, with the Pennsylvania National Guard arriving this week to help, loved ones say they finally feel the situation is being treated with the urgency it requires.

Finally, some hope

“It makes me happy and hopeful that someone’s up there that knows how to handle situations like this,” Matthew Seevers, whose mother is a resident at Brighton, said.

Judith Marie, whose mother is also a Brighton resident, echoed that sentiment.

"Fantastic, thrilling! Marie said. “I actually slept for the first time, last night.”

A dozen additional soldiers arrived at Brighton Wednesday, bringing the total number of National Guard personnel on site to 40. It’s one of the two largest deployments in the state at a long-term care facility.

For loved ones like Seevers and Marie, the National Guard presence is welcome and overdue. They've been deeply concerned with the growing death toll and lack of transparency at the facility.

"They quit reporting numbers. That caused fear and panic in everyone,” Marie said. “I’m hoping transparency will be there to build trust, because I lost trust.”

National Guard Help

The Pennsylvania National Guard, which first arrived on scene Monday, said its personnel are doing anything needed to help the limited staff at Brighton. They are putting special focus on cleaning and patient care.

“We’re cleaning, we’re assisting patients in making sure they’re clean, we’re changing bed linens, helping them change clothes, helping them to go to the bathroom, if they need it,” Captain David Boyles, PA National Guard, West Public Affairs Officer, said.

Marie’s mom told her during a phone call that she has noticed a difference.

“She said, ‘There are men here wearing all white suits.’ And she said they’re cleaning and she said the floor has never looked better,” Marie told 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi.

A National Guard Civilian Support Team, with expertise in hazardous materials, is also on-site. That team is sanitizing the facility and training the staff how to do it too, to make it safe to move patients.

“The hospital is planning on separating the COVID cases and those that have recovered after they’ve been diagnosed with COVID,” Boyles said.

Families are glad to hear that’s finally happening, given how contagious COVID-19 is. Keeping patients who have tested positive in the same room as those who tested negative is a concern 11 Investigates has been reporting about.

“It never should have got to this point. I mean, those are human lives, these are people we’re talking about who are no longer here," Seevers said.

Fortunately, Seevers’ mom and Marie’s mom are recovering after testing positive for COVID-19 weeks ago.

Rare call with Brighton Resident

11 Investigates got the rare opportunity to chat with Brighton resident Dorothy Umstead during a call with Judith Marie, her daughter.

Umstead, one of the few residents ever to speak publicly during this crisis, was upbeat and laughing, and clearly aware of the National Guard presence at the facility.

She told 11 Investigates Angie Moreschi she was “having a good day” and said, “I feel fine.”

When asked if the “guys in white suits are still sweeping and cleaning,” Umstead laughed and said yes, “They’re busy working!”

The call ended sweetly, as so many calls between mother and child do.

  • Marie: “I love you.” 
  • Umstead: “I love you, too. God bless you.” 
  • Marie: "Aww, God bless you, too, mom.”

Timetable for help open-ended

The families told 11 Investigates it feels good to have some positive news for a change at Brighton, and just hope things will continue to improve.

There's no firm timetable yet for the National Guard to leave, but it could be as early as this Friday.

A temporary manager paid for and appointed by the state is also on site, for now.

“Our temporary manager will assist with the safe operations of the facility and provide information directly to the department regarding the health of residents and the needs of patients and staff,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

The Department of Health said in an email to 11 Investigates: “The temporary manager, Allaire Health Services, of New Jersey, will remain in place until the department determines it is no longer necessary.”

“What’s really going to be the true test is when they leave,” Seevers said.

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