National Guard deployed at Western Pa. nursing home to help with COVID-19 outbreak

National Guard called in to support local nursing home amid COVID outbreak

NORTH STRABANE TOWNSHIP, Pa. — North Strabane Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is the latest nursing home in western Pennsylvania to need help from the National Guard. The facility is owned by the same company as Brighton Rehab in Beaver County, which had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the state earlier in the pandemic.

North Strabane is a much smaller long-term-care facility than Brighten, but it is dealing with a lot of cases in just the past couple of weeks. More than 50% of the residents and more than half of the employees tested positive for COVID-19, leading the facility to be short staffed.

“This weekend is a critical time that we brought our soldiers in so that we can help them to be assured the patients there would be taken care of,” said Lt. Col. Dr. Albert Fogle, Medical Director for the Pennsylvania National Guard’s COVID Task Force West.

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Fogel said they evaluated the facility’s infection protocols Thursday and determined they are up to standards, but because so many residents and staff were infected, they needed more help inside the facility.

“We’re in there as a support for their staff while their staff is sick,” he said.

About a dozen soldiers are deployed on site and will do a variety of jobs. Fogel said the mission is not to take over the building, but to provide support.

“We provide general purpose soldiers that can mop a hallway, clean a bathroom, wipe down anything they need to wipe down, assist in taking food trays to a patient’s room - and then, we have medics that can act as CNAs to actually do care of patients.”

No Data on Cases Reported

11 Investigates did some digging to check of the state Department of Health’s Long-term Care Facility COVID database, and it showed that North Strabane is reporting “NO DATA” for cases or deaths at the facility.

A lack of transparency about COVID-19 cases is something we’ve seen before at nursing homes owned by North Strabane’s parent company, Comprehensive Healthcare Management.  It also happened at Brighton Rehab, where family members repeatedly complained about secrecy. Additionally, Monroeville Rehab didn’t reveal it had an outbreak until after 11 investigates exposed a jump in cases there.

11 Investigates tried to contact administrators at North Strabane rehab for a comment, but got no response.

National Guard Mission

The National Guard has undertaken a massive support effort in nursing homes nationwide for nearly a year since the pandemic spread to the U.S. Here in Western Pennsylvania, the Guard has been deployed in about 100 facilities. The peak time was during the COVID-19 surge from November to mid-December, when soldiers were helping in nearly 20 facilities.

Fogle said the need was starting to wane a bit, but now seems to be ramping back up again.

“We’re only there a short time, when they really have a need and patient safety would be at risk,” Fogle said. “We’re there so grandma, grandpa, aunt, cousin, whoever it may be, is well taken care of in a crisis moment.

About a dozen soldiers will be at North Strabane for about for 5 to 7 days. Fogle will be back on-site Sunday to reevaluate the situation to determine if troops are needed longer.

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