(HARRISBURG) – With Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine being selected to join the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, Pennsylvania Senator Judy Ward (R-30), chair of the Senate Committee on Aging and Youth, issued the following statement on Secretary Levine’s record:
“In what is certainly a personal achievement for Secretary Levine, we cannot ignore the shortcomings in her performance at the helm of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We have known since Day One of the pandemic that those who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are among the most susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19. And yet, in 2020 these facilities faced some of the most significant operational challenges which were not a priority of Secretary Levine and Governor Wolf early on resulting in over two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths occurring in residents of long-term care facilities. These include struggling to maintain staffing levels, forcing nursing homes to take COVID patients, and retaining an adequate supply of PPE to meet the rising number of infections. “
“Most recently, the vaccine rollout has been slowed to the point that Pennsylvania lags far behind most states when it comes to vaccinating our most vulnerable residents.
“The opioid epidemic has been left to rage seemingly unchecked in Pennsylvania for the last year. The isolation brought on by Secretary Levine’s coronavirus-fighting mitigation orders and shutdowns has led to the opioid epidemic significantly worsening in 2020. The only response from Secretary Levine is from time to time mentioning at a news conference that help is available.
“Secretary Levine has demonstrated poise at the microphone during news conferences, but her policies have left Pennsylvanians with many questions about her abilities.”
COVID deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes and long-term care facilities soared past the national average. In December 2020, with a national average of 38 percent, Pennsylvania reached 60 percent – the sixth-highest in the nation. During that same time period, according to the New York Times, six of the 10 nursing homes with the most COVID-19 deaths in the nation were in Pennsylvania – a direct result of Secretary Levine’s policy to order nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. The national average in now 36 percent and PA is currently 52 percent – the tenth highest in the nation. Four of the 15 nursing homes with the most COVID-19 deaths in the nation are in Pennsylvania.
Representatives of the nursing home industry have sued the Commonwealth, saying that the state under this administration illegally withheld $150 million in federal funding, diverting the money into other human services programs.
Under Secretary Levine, Pennsylvania ranks as one of the lowest states in the northeast in terms of percentage of population to receive the first vaccine doses. According to Fortune magazine, about 2.7 out of every 100 Pennsylvania residents have been vaccinated, putting the Commonwealth behind more than 30 other states. The leading state, West Virginia, has vaccinated about 5.8 of every 100 residents.
The state counted 2,352 overdose deaths through June 30, an increase of 11.7% from 2,105 in the same period a year earlier.