Perry calls on feds to investigate Wolf's handling of nursing homes during pandemic

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry has called for a federal investigation into Gov. Tom Wolf's administration, alleging it failed to adequately protect nursing home residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Thursday letter to Gary Cantrell, the deputy inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the Carroll Township Republican asked the department to look into whether Wolf's mitigation guidelines hurt the facilities housing vulnerable seniors more than it helped.

"His breathtaking failure to protect the most vulnerable population in Pennsylvania warrants an independent investigation," Perry wrote.

More:York County has 2 new deaths linked to coronavirus, state cases surpass 63K

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

Perry's request falls in line with gripes from Republicans both in the state and nationally who have used the state's high number of deaths in nursing homes in arguments to reopen the state's economy.

In public demonstrations and comments over the past couple of weeks, they have argued that Wolf should shift his focus to nursing homes, asserting data indicates the general public would be safe in a reopened economy.

By state Department of Health numbers, the coronavirus's disproportionate impact on nursing home and long-term care facilities is undeniable.

Congressman Scott Perry attended opening ceremonies at the 104th Pennsylvania Farm Show Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. Saturday was the first day of the week-long farm show. Bill Kalina photo

Roughly 69% of the state's 4,505 deaths linked to the virus as of Monday were in those facilities.

However, confirmed cases among residents and employees at 561 nursing homes and long-term care facilities only account for 25% of the state's 63,056 cases as of Monday.

Just four of York County's 18 deaths linked to COVID-19 occurred in nursing homes, according to state data. And 2% of York County's 857 confirmed cases of the coronavirus were linked to a nursing home or long-term care facility. 

A New York Times analysis found that with those numbers, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in terms of the percentage of overall coronavirus-linked deaths that occurred in nursing homes.

Pennsylvania fell behind only Minnesota, West Virginia and Rhode Island, the Times reported.

The GOP's focus on those numbers heightened earlier this month after a report by Spotlight PA detailed how Wolf's administration abandoned an early plan to protect nursing homes that entailed "quick strike teams" to mitigate outbreaks in the facilities.

Their frustration has also boiled over because the state permits nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients and has only recently agreed to name facilities that have had outbreaks.

In a Monday new conference, Wolf welcomed Perry's critique.

“In terms of challenging the commonwealth on anything we’ve done, that’s the nature of democracy, and I welcome those comments and criticisms,” Wolf said.

But hours later, Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger went further to defend the administration's response to nursing home cases.

She specifically noted that the last time Perry reached out to the governor's office was in mid-March, when he had questions pertaining to first responders, Kensinger said.

And he "has never asked a question during (Health Secretary Rachel Levine's) weekly briefing calls with the (congressional) delegation.

"The state, on the other hand, has been hard at work for months preparing for and dealing with COVID-19 in our nursing homes," Kensinger said.

Kensinger cited a variety of measures the state has taken to support nursing homes, such as widespread testing, personal protective equipment deliveries and staff directly investigating safety concerns.

In the past couple of weeks, Wolf also implemented a number of policy changes amid mounting pressure, such as having the state National Guard provide staffing assistance to long-term care facilities.

To date, the National Guard has assisted 10 facilities, with five facilities still being actively served, officials said Monday. 

Last week, Wolf also announced the state would begin widespread testing in similar facilities throughout the state.

In addition, Attorney General Josh Shapiro unveiled a criminal probe into nursing homes that may have failed to implement adequate safety measures.

In Perry's letter, however, the Republican said the administration should have "fairly and impartially" assessed the governor's guidance to nursing homes that has still resulted in a high number of cases.

"Pennsylvanians deserve to know exactly what role their government played in the spread of COVID-19 infections, and the resulting deaths in nursing home, personal care, and assisted living facilities across the Commonwealth," Perry wrote.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.