Val Arkoosh

Montgomery County Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh answers a question during a COVID-19 press conference.

NORRISTOWN — Several of Montgomery County’s long-term care facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks are slated to receive some assistance from federal and state health officials via special “strike teams” that will visit the facilities and offer guidance.

Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said this week that county officials are pleased that the Pennsylvania Department of Health, in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Guard, “will be deploying multidisciplinary strike teams for a comprehensive assessment to a small number of long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania within the next two weeks.”

“These strike teams will be prioritizing facilities with early and recent outbreaks of COVID-19. At this time, there have been four facilities located within Montgomery County that have been identified for assessment by the strike team,” Arkoosh said during a news briefing.

“It’s my understanding that these teams will come in, they will do an initial assessment and then they will help facilitate testing for all the residents and staff in these facilities a few days later,” Arkoosh explained. “It’s great news to have this help and we are very pleased to receive it.”

The four facilities expected to get visits from strike teams were not identified.

"It is my understanding that those facilities were chosen by Pennsylvania Department of Health because they are facilities that appear to have just a few cases and I think the thinking is that...by getting a team in there early, they might be able to prevent a large number of cases occurring in these facilities," Arkoosh added on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, state officials began releasing information about reported positive COVID-19 cases among residents and staff and the number of deaths in specific long-term care facilities statewide.

The long-term care facility with the largest number of cases in Montgomery County is Parkhouse Rehabilitation and Nursing Center with 136 resident cases, 13 employee cases and 48 deaths, according to the state data.

The full list of the nursing homes by county can be found by visiting www.health.pa.gov

On Monday, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced the CDC has sent three teams to the state to assist with the state’s COVID-19 response.

“We are so pleased to have this level of collaboration and assistance from the CDC to help our teams working in the field in Pennsylvania,” Levine said. “COVID-19 is a particularly challenging situation for congregate settings, including large workplaces, food industries and long-term care facilities. These teams are assisting us in our response in these hardest-hit areas as we work to protect the public health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”

Levine said the teams have been working to become familiar with the situation across the state so they can begin providing assistance to locations in need. There are two teams assisting long-term care facilities and one team assisting food facility outbreaks, Levine said.

The CDC teams will be in Pennsylvania for two weeks to help in the response using their expertise, according to Levine. These teams will teach infection control practices and offer training on personal protective equipment and outbreak response at the facilities they visit.

The teams also will assist with developing a testing strategy for the nursing homes they visit and use their expertise to help residents, officials said.

County officials do not have direct jurisdiction over the long-term care facilities.

However, for several weeks, county officials have been monitoring coronavirus data from the 75 long-term care facilities in the county that are licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as well as from “other congregate care settings” in the county, for a total of about 620 facilities.

The county’s Office of Public Health has had teams, including trained nurses and representatives of senior services, visiting many of the facilities during the last several weeks to advise operators about CDC and state health guidelines.

“We continue to do outreach with these facilities,” said Arkoosh, adding the county officials will collaborate with the state and CDC teams that visit the facilities. “We are grateful for their support. 

"We're hoping that we can provide local knowledge of the situation here on the ground in Montgomery County to the teams from the CDC and our team is looking forward to learning about any best practices or other new information that we don't currently have at our disposal," Arkoosh continued.

"So, I think it's going to be a win-win opportunity for every body involved," Arkoosh added. 

For weeks, Arkoosh has recommended that the county’s long-term care facilities test all residents and staff for the virus in order to get a better handle on the situation and identify problem areas. State health officials made the same recommendation last week.

As of Tuesday, 94 of the county facilities reported positive COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. Specifically, officials reported there were 1,716 cases among residents of the facilities and 625 cases among staff at the facilities, for a total of 2,341 positive individuals.

Additionally, 469 of the total 536 COVID-19 deaths reported in the county as of Tuesday were individuals who resided in long-term care facilities, comprising about 88 percent of the total deaths.

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