Statewide program helping long-term care facilities manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks

ALLEGHENY CO., Pa. — COVID-19 cases are rising in long-term care homes, where many of our society’s most vulnerable people live.

A regional program of healthcare experts is working together to help those facilities deal with coronavirus outbreaks.

The Department of Human Services runs this program, and UPMC and AHN are the two major players helping out.

From helping with infection control to PPE, testing and even laundry in some cases, the program is doing everything it can.

About 127,000 Pennsylvanians live in nearly 2,000 long-term care facilities around the state. The Regional Response Health Collaborative is helping them deal with the devastating impact of COVID-19.

“We are now eight months into this, and through the challenges of the spring, summer and now the resurgence we’re seeing in the fall, we are smarter. We are learning more about how to manage and mitigate this pandemic every day,” said DHS secretary Teresa Miller.

Just how bad is this next wave of coronavirus cases at long-term facilities? Keara Klinepeter, with the Pa. Department of Health, told Channel 11 some centers are experiencing “significant outbreaks,” but the overall response is much stronger now.

A key part of that response comes through the RRHC program; 11 health networks were selected statewide.

“We very systematically go through all the key areas to first off keep COVID out of a building, detect it early, and in the case of a rapid response, stop the transmission,” said Dr. Emily Jaffe, with AHN.

If a facility has an outbreak, a rapid response team of medical personnel is sent on-site to help with things like additional PPE, staffing shortages, testing, contact tracing and infection control.

Officials said it provides essential assistance quickly.

The RRHC program was funded by $175 million from the CARES Act, but that money is running out.

The state says it is vital to get the state legislature and Congress to provide more funding, so it can continue past the end of this year.