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National Guard to leave troubled Pennsylvania nursing home

Pennsylvania National Guard members prepare to enter Brighton Rehab and Wellness Center in Beaver, Pa., on May 10, 2020.

CAPT. DAVID BOYLES, PENNSYLVANIA NATIONAL GUARD

By SEAN D. HAMILL | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Published: May 19, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — The Pennsylvania National Guard on Tuesday will send home the 40 troops who have spent the past week assisting employees at a Beaver County nursing home enduring the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and guard officials said much was accomplished by the troops, who will have worked eight straight days by Tuesday. They helped care for patients, cleaned the building and freed up staff to work more closely with residents at 589-bed Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center nursing home, which has had 349 COVID-19 cases among residents, 25 among staff and 76 resident deaths as of Monday, according to an analysis of state data.

But neither the state nor the guard or nursing home could say exactly what was accomplished over the past week that is leading to them leaving so soon when other guard deployments to nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic have lasted longer.

On top of that, neither the state nor the guard would say why it took so long for the guard to be deployed to what has been widely known since mid-April as the single-worst COVID-19 outbreak in the state, when the state first sent the guard to help the first nursing home three weeks before it sent the guard to Brighton.

Last week when it was announced the guard was coming to Brighton to help, Brighton’s owners, Comprehensive Healthcare, said in a statement that it had “finally secured the assistance” of the guard.

Later, Brighton’s owner told the Post-Gazette in an emailed answer to questions that it had been seeking state assistance with staffing, as well as protective equipment, since mid-March, when it first realized it had the beginnings of an outbreak.

When asked last week why it took so long to get the guard to Brighton, Dr. Levine did not give an explanation, saying the guard had been at other locations “but now is at Brighton.”

Asked to explain further, state Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said in an emailed answer to questions from the Post-Gazette: “Staffing concerns were not raised by the facility to the department until well into the outbreak; when raised we immediately worked to support the facility with staffing support.”

Though it is still not clear why the guard’s presence took till May 11, the guard believes it was a successful mission.

“I’m extremely proud of all the soldiers and the time and commitment they gave to provide for this facility,” Lt. Kara Barclay, the guard’s officer-in-charge at Brighton, said Monday during an interview at Brighton. “And I know that they are proud of everything they accomplished coming here and helping Brighton Rehab and Wellness.”

Dr. Levine said during her online news conference Monday that the guard “achieved a significant amount of progress at the facility,” including helping with staffing and infection control.

But neither Dr. Levine nor the guard could explain why the Guard was leaving after just eight days, when other guard deployments at other nursing homes have lasted more than twice as long during the pandemic.

Why the guard is leaving Tuesday “is between Brighton and the state Department of Health,” said Capt. David Boyles, the guard’s on-site spokesman at Brighton.

Dr. Levine did mention that other help is coming to Brighton this week, in the form of temporary workers from MedWave Healthcare Staffing of Jamestown, N.Y. — something Brighton’s owners mentioned as well.

“We are grateful for the support [the guard] provided our staff during this challenging time,” Brighton’s owners said, in part, in an emailed statement Monday. “Moving forward we will be receiving additional nursing staff support from Medwave to help us continue to prioritize the high-level of care our residents require.”

The guard has deployed to 10 nursing homes across the state so far, though only four other nursing homes have revealed the guard is helping them.

Those four known locations included Gracedale Nursing Home in Upper Nazareth, Northampton County, where the guard stayed for 13 days. Troops arrived at the 688-bed nursing home — one of only three in the state larger than Brighton — on April 27 and left May 10 from a facility that, as of Monday, had 195 positive cases and 46 deaths.

The guard spent even more time at Southeastern Veterans Center, a state-run veterans home in East Vincent, Chester County. The guard deployed there April 17 and stayed at least until May 2 at the facility, which has 238 nursing home beds and 38 personal care beds. At least 34 people have died there.

The other two homes that the guard is known to have deployed to are Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Marple, Delaware County, where the guard stayed for just four days in April, and The Shook Home in Chambersburg, Franklin County, where the guard just deployed to last week.

The guard’s deployment to Brighton included an 11-member civil support team, which helped train Brighton staff, as well as a contract cleaning company, to use high-tech cleaning equipment, including an atomizer, to sterilize the building. That team spent three days there and left last Wednesday.

Another 27 members of the Guard’s medical support team started working there Monday of last week, primarily aimed at “freeing up time for [Brighton’s] staff to focus on the care of the residents” and performing any task that would allow them to do that, including cleaning, serving meals or helping with residents, Lt. Barclay said.

Those 27 troops were joined by 13 more on Wednesday because of an increased need in the building.

Together the 40-member team — a mix of roughly 10 Air Force guard members and 30 Army guard members, including 12 Army medics — worked all over the five-story, sprawling building with three separate wings, she said, working “wherever they needed the soldiers.”

Up to 25 troops worked during the day shift, up to 15 sometimes during the night shift, and as many as five on the overnight shift, in numbers that flexed daily depending on need, Capt. Boyles said.

“By the end of their shifts, they were proud of what they were doing here,” Lt. Barclay said.

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