The coronavirus (COVID-19) takes anywhere from two to 14 days to incubate. Medical experts agree that COVID-19 has a greater adverse effect on those with co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Pennsylvania’s six veterans homes house nearly 1,300 residents, with about 90% of them being men in their 80s. Studies show that men are statistically more susceptible than women for experiencing adverse effects from COVID-19 due to co-morbidity rates being higher in men. In Pennsylvania’s public and private long-term care facilities, women make up 70-80% of residents.
We cannot speak for all long-term care facilities, but our Pennsylvania Veterans Homes are testing all employees and residents who are demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever or cough. We have taken great measures to safeguard our employees and residents. When the concerns over COVID-19 first surfaced, staff at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ (DMVA) six veterans homes reviewed and updated infection prevention and control plans in preparation for a possible outbreak. DMVA also implemented heightened safety measures to include restricting visitors, canceling outings, discontinuing group activities, ceasing the use of volunteers, conducting daily health screenings for employees, and putting new admissions on hold.
The challenges that DMVA veterans homes have faced are not different than what most other long-term care facilities are facing nationwide. Though we currently have adequate Personal Protective Equipment, such as N-95 masks, surgical masks, face shield, booties, head protection and gloves, we are continually working to stock these items, which are in shortage through standard supply chains. Early-on when dealing with COVID-19, we faced the same national challenge of being able to test our staff and residents, either at external testing sites or by using swab kits onsite. Though access to testing has improved, we are still working toward better testing capabilities with a quicker turnaround for test results.
Any resident who leaves one of our homes and wants to be re-admitted at a later time would need to re-apply and go through the admissions process all over again. This would include re-assessing their current medical condition. Additionally, each home maintains a wait list and our policy is to admit veterans based on the date they were added to the wait list. DMVA is not accepting new applicants during COVID-19.
Each veterans home has put a focus on resident and family communication during COVID-19. Every resident has either a representative or an individual with Power of Attorney (POA) to whom the home provides regular updates regarding any changes in medical conditions of the resident or their individual care plan. Due to HIPPA requirements, it is up to the representative or POA to inform the rest of the family. Additionally, our homes have facilitated many web meetings, window visits, and phones calls for family members to connect with their loved ones.
The best way to get information about a resident is for that person’s representative or POA to call the home. It is important that the POA then shares information with the rest of the family. Family members can also stay connected with residents through videoconference, window visits, e-mail and phone calls. Loved ones are also encouraged to read a home’s monthly newsletter to see photos and read stories about what residents are doing to keep busy during COVID-19. To access a newsletter, go to www.veteranshomes.pa.gov
We take the concerns of our residents, their families and staff very seriously. If you ever feel that you are not being treated appropriately, we want to hear from you. We have compiled this list of resources to help you have a voice, so please don't hesitate to speak up!