Lawsuit: Nursing homes lack oversight for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania

A class-action lawsuit alleges the Pennsylvania Department of Health is not doing its job by failing to oversee long-term care facilities amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"I want my dad to live...that's what I want," says Jodi Gill.

Her father, Glen Gill, is 81. He suffers from advanced dementia and resides at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Western Pennsylvania, a facility that reportedly has had several hundred cases of COVID-19 and more than 50 deaths.

"Every day I just hold my breath because I don't know what's going on. What we know-- the number of deaths keep happening," said Gill.

She is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks to compel the state to provide adequate oversight of nursing homes.

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"It's not just my dad, I am not asking for any money damages, I want them to do their job and to save people," said Gill.

Philadelphia civil attorney, Marty Kardon, one of several attorneys who filed the suit, says the state needs to do its job and resume routine inspections of nursing homes.

"If there is a fire at your house, you want the hose directed at the heart of the fire, not around it. Nursing homes are ground zero," said Kardon.

Department of Health Secretary, Rachel Levine, says the state is following guidelines by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and still conducting complaint inspections.

"In terms of complaint inspections, we still do that and can still do that on-site--in fact this weekend we did do one," Levine said.

More than half of the more than 2,400 COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have been nursing home residents.

Currently, the state only releases the number of nursing home cases by county. Kardon says nursing home staff, residents and families deserve more transparency.

"That's very nice, but it does no one any good if you don't know what nursing home has a lot of cases and which have none," Kardon adds.

Glen Gill tested negative for COVID-19. The state said it couldn't comment on the lawsuit and Brighton has not commented to Action News.

AARP of Pennsylvania released this statement to Action News:

"While AARP Pennsylvania appreciates the actions that our state's elected and healthcare leaders have taken to address the coronavirus crisis, considering Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the United States and is home to nearly 126,000 people residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, more must be done to protect Pennsylvania's nursing facility residents.

It is troubling that some families remain in the dark about the care that their loved ones are receiving, that facilities are not communicating to families quickly about developing COVID-19 cases in facilities, and that the workers on the frontlines are completely overwhelmed and lack the equipment and support they need. Our system must be more transparent.

AARP Pennsylvania has called on the Wolf Administration to immediately address transparency concerns around coronavirus spread and prevention in nursing homes. State officials, nursing home operators, and family caregivers must all work together during this crisis to ensure residents remain healthy and connected with their families."

- Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP Pennsylvania State Director


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