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• One resident at McKeesport center is positive; four tests pending
• Controller concerned by use of fill-in employees at hard-hit Glen Hazel center
Allegheny County officials said Friday they have a “singular focus” on protecting residents and employees of the four Kane Community Living Centers from novel coronavirus.
Since March 25, 83 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the Glen Hazel center, including 59 residents and 24 employees, according to data released Friday. The facility is licensed for 255 beds.
Four residents of the Glen Hazel center have died from COVID-19, including three at the facility and one in a hospital. Two residents are currently hospitalized, county officials said.
There are two cases of coronavirus at the McKeesport center, including one staff member who tested positive on Monday, and one resident who is currently in isolation, said Dennis Biondo, executive director of the county-owned and operated Kane facilities.
“The health, safety and welfare of our residents and staff remains our biggest priority,” Biondo said during a news conference Friday. “We are deeply indebted to, and salute, our healthcare staff who are working tirelessly to care for our residents.”
More than 900 people, many of them elderly or with serious underlying medical conditions, live at the four Kane assisted living and skilled-nursing centers. The McKeesport facility, licensed for 360 beds, is the largest of the four.
According to statistics released by the county, 17 residents at Kane McKeesport have been tested for coronavirus. Twelve came back negative and four tests remain pending.
Of Kane McKeesport staff members, 16 have been tested, eight tests were negative and seven remain pending.
The centers implemented a “no-visitor” policy on March 13 and canceled all resident trips and group activities, including communal dining.
Since March 25, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman, all residents and staff are being regularly screened for fevers and respiratory symptoms, and on March 27, the county also began screening for sick relatives at home.
Residents are having their temperatures taken at each shift change, she said.
“Our singular focus during this difficult time is protecting and caring for our residents and staff,” Biondo said.
But Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner this week raised concerns about whether Kane administrators are following best practices by allowing employees from the other Kane centers in McKeesport, Ross and Scott to fill in at the Glen Hazel center for employees who are sick or quarantined.
In a letter sent Friday to Biondo, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and county Manager William McKain, Wagner said notices have been posted at the other three Kane facilities reading, in part, “Gear Up and Go to Glen Hazel. Pick up an extra shift or hours.”
While the county “certainly faces a challenge” in filling vacancies at Glen Hazel, “spreading the virus to any of the other Kane facilities through an employee would compound the situation greatly,” Wagner said. “Every measure must be taken to avoid this.”
Federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services state that nursing facilities “should use separate staffing teams for COVID-19-positive residents to the best of their ability,” she said.
Wagner is recommending that any employees who move to the Glen Hazel facility stay there exclusively for the duration of the current outbreak.
If any worker “absolutely must split time between facilities,” Wagner said, they should be kept separated from any COVID-19 patients at Glen Hazel as well as staff who work directly with those residents.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been particularly hard-hit by coronavirus outbreaks. According to data released this week by the state Department of Health, nursing and personal care homes account for roughly half of all confirmed cases and deaths in Pennsylvania.
As of Friday, there have been 947 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County, and 43 deaths — including 30 in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Countywide, all of the deaths so far have been among patients 50 and older, with 84 percent among patients age 70 and older.
The state Health Department said Friday there have been 134 cases of coronavirus reported among patients in nursing and personal care homes in Allegheny County, and 34 cases among their employees.
Wagner said Friday the Kane centers must develop “a clear plan to cover any staffing shortages safely” and also recommended the county consider paying hazard pay to workers at Glen Hazel, and to any employees who are re-assigned there from the other centers.
“Care workers face stressful and hazardous conditions under normal circumstances, but now — and particularly at Kane Glen Hazel — (they) are dealing with the grave concern of contracting the virus themselves or spreading it to their loved ones,” she wrote in her letter. “Healthcare workers must be our priority given the sacrifices they are making at this time.”
Downs said all staff at the Glen Hazel center are wearing personal protective equipment when providing patient care. At the other three centers, employees caring for residents who have tested positive — or who are awaiting test results — are wearing face masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields or goggles, she said.
Precautions also are being taken by members of the health care team who are testing residents and staff, Downs said.
The families of residents who test positive for novel coronavirus are being informed, as well as other residents and employees at their centers, she said, and family members have been provided with a number to call for updates.
Biondo said Friday that Kane administrators are “grateful” for the continued guidance and communication they have had with the Allegheny County Health Department.
The Kane centers are especially thankful for the employees, he said.
“These staff members come to work each day and care for our residents as if they were their own family members,” Biondo said. “We recognize the commitment, dedication and sacrifices that represents, and remain grateful for everything that they do for us, and for our residents.”
Wagner echoed Biondo’s remarks. Kane workers are “on the front lines” of the coronavirus pandemic, she said. “They deserve the strongest support and gratitude of our government and the entire community.”
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published April 17, 2020.