Calls for hazard pay for Glen Hazel personnel and limitations on sharing staff across locations

(Pittsburgh) April 17, 2020 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner raised concerns with County administration and Kane Regional Centers officials today that sharing employees between the Kane Glen Hazel facility—where 73 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 to date—and the other Kane facilities could lead to outbreaks in those other locations. The Kane Centers website, updated yesterday, now reports one positive patient in McKeesport and one positive staff member each at the McKeesport, Ross, and Scott facilities.

In recent days, the Controller’s office received reports of notices posted at other Kane facilities urging workers to volunteer for additional shifts at Glen Hazel while continuing to work their normal hours at another facility. The notices, as conveyed to the Controller’s office, read: “Gear Up and Go to Glen Hazel. Pick up an extra shift or hours. You will be able to return to [current facility] for regular Schedule! Interested?”

It appears this practice could violate recently issued federal guidelines for nursing care facilities, which urge against an employee at a facility or unit where the virus is present from working in other facilities or areas.

“While the County certainly faces a challenge in meeting staffing needs at Glen Hazel, where a number of employees are out sick or in quarantine, spreading the virus to any of the other Kane facilities through an employee would compound the situation greatly. Every measure must be taken to avoid this,” Wagner said.

The guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) state that “…facilities should use separate staffing teams for COVID-19-positive residents to the best of their ability, and work with State and local leaders to designate separate facilities or units within a facility to separate COVID-19 negative residents from COVID-19 positive residents and individuals with unknown COVID-19 status.”

Wagner recommended that if staff availability dictates that employees must be moved to Glen Hazel, that they work there exclusively for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak. If any worker absolutely must split time between facilities, then they should be kept separated from any COVID patients at Glen Hazel and staff that works directly with these residents.

“Long-term care facilities should exercise as best as possible consistent assignment (meaning the assignment of staff to certain patients and residents) for all patients and residents regardless of symptoms or COVID-19 status.[…] The goal is to decrease the number of different staff interacting with each patient and resident as well as the number of times those staff interact with the patient and resident. Also, staff as much as possible should not work across units or floors,” the CMS guidelines continue.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, long-term and nursing care facilities account for about half of confirmed cases and deaths in the state to date.

Wagner’s letter said the Kanes must develop a clear plan to cover any staffing shortages safely and fully inform workers and residents’ family members.

“It has been terribly troubling to hear from workers and families alike who are in the dark about the risks they and their loved ones face, and what is being done to reduce them,” she wrote.

Wagner also urged that the County institute hazard pay for Kane Glen Hazel workers and those who are transferred to or assigned shifts at Glen Hazel.

“Care workers face stressful and hazardous conditions under normal circumstances, but now—and particularly at Kane Glen Hazel—are dealing with the grave concern of contracting the virus themselves or spreading it to their loved ones,” Wagner said. “Healthcare workers must be our priority given the sacrifices they are making at this time”

“The largest outbreak in our County is in a County facility and County workers are on the front lines. They deserve the strongest support and gratitude of our government and the entire community. Our County is fortunate to have come into this crisis with a robust fund balance, and is now receiving considerable grant funding to manage it on behalf of our residents. We should step up for our care workers at the Kanes, whose work is essential to every one of us.”