Pennsylvania nursing homes are now required to distribute respirators to employees providing direct care to COVID-19-positive residents under a new order by the state’s Secretary of Health. 

Though the move is welcomed by some, others have concerns about how costly it will be for operators and whether the state is doing enough to support them. 

“Our healthcare heroes need support — not order after order — to successfully mitigate COVID-19,” Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said in a statement. 

The policy was included in an order issued Monday that requires providers to develop, implement and adhere to policies and procedures in order to personal protective equipment and distribute that equipment to all staff.

Respirators handed out by each facility must be approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety or the Food and Drug Administration. 

Providers will be required to have their PPE policies in place by Aug. 27. The order also applies to personal care homes, assisted living and private intermediate care facilities. 

“Many long-term care facilities have been working diligently to protect their staff from this virus. We have heard also heard from nurses and staff from across the state, and this order responds directly to their safety concerns,”  Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, M.D., said in a statement. 

Moving the goalposts

Long-term care providers in Pennsylvania have struggled to procure the PPE necessary to care for residents since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Shamberg. 

He noted that the state’s Department of Health released guidance less than two weeks ago deeming facemarks as an acceptable alternative to N95 marks. However, the “goal posts have shifted” under this new order and providers have been left “scrambling to find these masks with only ten days until the order is enforced by the state,” Shamberg said. 

He added that the state government has been able to secure emergency stockpiles of PPE and $50 million has been allocated to provide emergency PPE to healthcare facilities across the state. 

“Providers must be able to rely on these resources,” Shamberg emphasized. 

“On behalf of long-term care providers statewide, we are urging our state government to work with us to ensure staff and residents remain safe. Providers are, once again, being tasked with finding emergency supplies of PPE in addition to caring for their residents. 

Shortages persist

LeadingAge PA President and CEO Adam Marles said that organization supports efforts intended to protect residents and staff members but supply chain shortages remain. He added that “state funding simply doesn’t cover the costs for PPE and testing requirements.” 

“We hope that this order does not fall to our members as an unfunded mandate they will not have the resources to meet, and look forward to working closely with the administration and lawmakers to address these critical funding needs,” Marles said in a statement.