– Continued access to personal protective equipment (PPE), threats of frivolous lawsuits and skyrocketing expenses are among the most significant concerns facing health care and social service providers as they try to find a path forward through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
That was the message delivered to members of the state House Majority Policy Committee at a public hearing Thursday in Breinigsville, Lehigh County.
“Today, we heard many accounts from our local health care and long-term care providers explaining their continued struggles as they work to prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19,” said Rep. Gary Day (R-Berks/Lehigh), who hosted the hearing in his legislative district. “Adequate PPE and COVID-19 testing reagents were some of the various items frequently mentioned during this hearing that they expressed dire need for as the fall season approaches. I have been working at length with the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, which I chair, and local leaders to address these issues. That includes introducing legislation to require a PPE stockpile here in Pennsylvania to have on hand for future health crises, as well as helping ensure our communities remain prepared to combat this virus. I want to thank Chairman (Martin) Causer and his committee for coming to our area to listen to the incredible progress that has been made during this crisis as well as the hardships that our Legislature could help address in the coming months.”
Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, senior vice president of Medical and Academic Affairs at St. Luke's University Health Network, testified about an ongoing shortage of testing supplies and reagents, as well as PPE, which are necessary to help prevent a second wave of the virus this fall. His concerns were reiterated by other testifiers.
“It’s troubling that access to PPE, as well as testing supplies, continues to be an issue for our health care providers,” said Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Berks/Lehigh). “While telehealth has been a great asset in providing care to patients, it has its limits. In many cases, in-person care is absolutely necessary. Our health care providers MUST have access to PPE to protect themselves and the patients they are treating, not only from COVID-19 but other conditions and diseases as well.”
Liability concerns also were cited by several testifiers, including Michael Leader, president and CEO of Country Meadows Retirement Communities. “Without liability protection there will be hundreds of frivolous lawsuits filed against Pennsylvania’s long-term care providers, resulting in millions of dollars in settlements, skyrocketing insurance costs, shrinkage of the liability insurance market in our state, and ultimately, the downfall of this important component of the health care continuum,” he said.
Adam Marles, president and CEO of LeadingAge PA, echoed Leader’s concerns, especially as it relates to visitation policies at long-term care facilities and the depression and anxiety being displayed by residents who have been isolated from their loved ones for so long.
“It’s clear from the testimony presented that our health care, long-term care and social services providers have worked so hard to keep their employees, patients and clients safe,” said Rep. Zach Mako (R-Lehigh/Northampton). “The constantly evolving knowledge about the virus and how it’s spread has made their jobs even more difficult, and we need to look at how we can provide some level of liability protection while obviously ensuring patients are protected from gross negligence.”
Another issue raised during testimony is the ongoing reluctance among people to seek necessary medical care.
“With flu season approaching, it is a very real concern that people will not go to their doctors or the hospital to get care they need for this other potentially deadly virus,” said Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-Northampton). “I’m encouraged by the efforts of St. Luke’s and other providers to give patients peace of mind about pursuing care when they need it.”
Also testifying were the Hon. Doug Reichley of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, who outlined the challenges facing all court operations, especially treatment courts that historically have relied heavily on testing and in-person interactions to be effective; and Jessica McKenty, advocacy director for The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties, who highlighted the need to ensure consistency and continuity for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), chairman of the Majority Policy Committee, praised the work of the testifiers, “While every business and organization has faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, few have been more challenged than our health care and social service providers. I am impressed by and grateful for the steps they have all taken to continue serving people in need safely. I also appreciate their openness in talking with us about the challenges they continue to face and how we in the Legislature may be able to help.”
The hearing will be available for viewing at PAHouseGOP.com
Representative Gary Day
187th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Abby Krueger