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Health Foundations in PHFC Move with Alacrity to Identify Best Practices for COVID-19 in Long-Term Care Facilities and Contact Tracing

The PA Health Funders Collaborative (PHFC) held its monthly meeting on April 15 to identify immediate priorities for COVID-19, including scaling up the contact tracing workforce and increasing testing, PPE, and Rapid Response Teams in long-term care facilities. Following the meeting, health foundations in PHFC moved into action, researching best practices for these priorities and developing policy recommendations for the Commonwealth. In a series of letters, PHFC members sent these recommendations to key policy makers about one week after the monthly meeting.

The foundations in PHFC collaborated rapidly since, tragically, 65% of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have occurred in long-term care facilities. PHFC has long identified frail seniors as a key priority for its members, and its foundations quickly worked together to share best practice recommendations. The residents in these facilities with COVID-19 may not report typical symptoms, and about half of skilled nursing facility residents and staff with a positive COVID-19 test may be asymptomatic, contributing to further infections. In the letters, PHFC highlighted the need to: test seniors for COVID-19 before transferring them to senior living facilities; call on hospitals to contribute personnel, PPE, testing, and infectious disease consults in the form of Rapid Response Teams when COVID-19 appears in long-term care facilities; and recommend testing all residents and staff in COVID-19 positive long-term care facilities via state resources. Other states, such as WV, NJ, and MA, are putting these types of policies into action to reduce COVID-19 infections and deaths among seniors.

There is also an urgent need to significantly scale up the contact tracing workforce to at least 1,000 as the Commonwealth moves towards re-opening regions. To create an army of contact tracers, PHFC members recommended to build a racially and geographically diverse Corps of Outreach Workers comprised of Community Health Workers, BSW social workers, retired healthcare workers, medical assistants, and members of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. The Corps would be available on a long-term basis. This would allow the public health system to re-direct the Outreach Worker Corps to address a variety of other public health priorities as COVID-19 recedes as a top public health hazard over time. PHFC's recommendations for the well-trained, supervised, committed network of outreach workers were informed by JHF's Minorities AIDS Initiative (MAI), which deploys outreach workers.

PHFC also recommended that the Statewide Contact Tracing Plan, which was released on May 1, could be operationalized regionally through public/private partners. The Commonwealth has a successful track record with rolling out new programs through these types of partnerships. For example, PHFC mobilized multi-sector partners in regions across the Commonwealth to prepare for the rollout of managed long-term care (Community HealthChoices).

PHFC and JHF look forward to continuing its partnerships with state and county governments to inform and implement best practice policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated 5/7/2020: JHF was excited to see this update from the commonwealth regarding their contact tracing and recovery efforts: Gov. Wolf Outlines Plans to Create Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps to Support Fall COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

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