Having a Pennsylvania Secretary of Health with an expertise in treating pediatric eating and addiction disorders may have been sufficient for the Commonwealth in normal times. But, as every one of our readers understands, we are not living in normal times. 

Dr. Rachel Levine, who has led Governor Tom Wolf’s coronavirus response, has been laudable in one specific way: she has actually taken questions from the press, as opposed to the governor, whose office stopped processing public health records requests in mid-March, he says, due to the present state of emergency. 

However, under Levine’s leadership, the results for Pennsylvanians’ health — and specifically for those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities  — have been ruinous.

Pennsylvania has over 4,000 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths, in the top five nationally in raw numbers and in the top ten per capita. Most of the most impacted states are clustered in the Mid-Atlantic and New England, partially an unfortunate accident of geographic proximity to America’s first major hotspot, New York City and its suburbs. 

But Pennsylvania also surpasses most of its neighbors in our deaths at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where over 65 percent of the victims of this virus have met their demise. Compare that to New York State (under 20 percent of deaths in nursing homes or care facilities), Maryland (under 50 percent), Delaware (under 60 percent), and New Jersey (40 percent). The public has been told repeatedly to “trust the experts” and that, under Dr. Levine’s stewardship, our most vulnerable would be protected to the best extent of our state officials’ ability.

Yet the Wolf Administration, with Levine at the helm, made one fatal error: mandating that nursing homes re-admit Covid-positive patients. Levine, like her counterparts in some other states (notably New York), issued guidance to that effect in mid-March, anticipating the height of the pandemic, in order “to alleviate the increasing burden” in hospitals. But as the Bucks County Courier-Times notes, “hospitals in most counties [of PA] were never overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.” 

Indeed, at a May 6th meeting with state legislators, Dr. Levine testified that of the 37,000 available hospital beds in Pennsylvania, only 2,572, or about seven percent, were occupied by confirmed Covid-positive patients.

Hospital beds have been available all along, so the justification for forcing nursing homes to reabsorb Covid-positive patients was nonexistent.

Instead, the decision to compel nursing homes to care for elderly or otherwise unwell Covid-positive patients spurred devastating results. As carriers of the disease returned to nursing homes to “recover,” they shed the virus at an exponential rate amongst their neighbors and caretakers. 

Did Dr. Levine reconsider the guidance, knowing full well that our hospital capacity was sufficient to support Covid patients without forcing nursing homes to re-admit them? Did she mimic what states like Connecticut are doing in creating Covid-only facilities, so that carriers are isolated but still able to receive care once they’re out of acute treatment? Did she centralize the procurement of necessary but scarce personal protective equipment for these facilities by leveraging state purchasing power?

No. Dr. Levine did what she has demonstrated an unsettling propensity towards doing amidst a rapidly evolving public health crisis: she stubbornly insisted that the Wolf Administration’s previous assumptions remained accurate and effective. And then she did something truly remarkable. She quietly moved her 95-year old mother out of one such facility, into a high-end hotel.

Had Dr. Levine revised the guidance on forcing nursing homes to readmit Covid-positive patients, or encouraged Pennsylvanians to do what she and her family chose to do — and move their ailing parents to safety —  she may have deserved to stay on as Pennsylvania Health Secretary.

But she did not.

Notwithstanding the current debate over Governor Wolf’s iron-fisted, tone-deaf approach to keeping the state’s economy shut down, this move from Dr. Levine is a damning self-indictment of the ability of the governor’s administration to handle the public health crisis.

Responding to what is now national news, Levine claims her mother made her own decision. Perhaps. But this only means that her own mother shares our concerns. Doesn’t everybody’s mother or father deserve to be protected? Why didn’t Dr. Levine suggest other families consider what hers chose to do? Is this fundamentally different from U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler and Dianne Feinstein cashing out millions in stocks due to insider information — while assuring the American public that we were in good hands, and not to panic? One of those senators is under federal investigation. 

The Wolf Administration’s lack of transparency on this issue, and on all issues related to its coronavirus response — from the opaque manner waivers were granted to businesses to its refusal to abide by standard Freedom of Information requests — has been stark.

The media’s response, too, has been for the most part abysmal, underscoring the need for a genuinely adversarial press corps — and not one that runs cover for one political side or another (and we all know which side). 

In light of the situation on the ground — as Pennsylvania’s Covid death count climbs in comparison to other states, as more of our deaths come from nursing homes than any of our neighbors, and as the Wolf Administration’s performance has come under more and more scrutiny — this Editorial Board calls on PA Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to resign. If she does not, Governor Wolf should fire her, and replace her with a trained epidemiologist who is willing to face down this virus with integrity and competence.


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17 thoughts on “The Editors: Dr. Rachel Levine should resign as PA Health Secretary”

  1. Dr. Rachel Levine has done a great deal for all the people of Pennsylvania. She has made decisions that were the best, at the time and based on knowledge available at the time.

    She was able to afford to put her own mother in isolation. Not everyone can. Would you prefer the elderly to be homeless during a pandemic? Do you want to put her down for doing the same thing you would do?

    1. So what you are saying of you are rich than it is ok to do what you want, but if you are poor take your chances

    2. What should have happened was that positive cases should have been quarantined elsewhere. There was never a doubt that this virus would be a death sentence to the most medically vulnerable, which happen to be managed care facilities

  2. What fancy hotel or hotel chain? I tried relocating family and all hotels were closed. Not that I could afford a high end hotel, but would be nice to know the options available.

  3. There is a rumor that Dr Levine’s mother is currently staying at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA. For those of you who don’t know, the cheapest room at the Hershey Lodge is $159 per night. The rumor is that she is staying in the luxury suite for over $500 per night. There are three questions that should be answered about this:
    a) Is her mother still at the Hershey Lodge?
    b) Who is paying the bill?
    c) Did Dr Levine receive a discount for staying there?

    Discounts are forbidden to state employees by the Wolf Administration. He banned them at the beginning of his first term because they’re considered “gifts”. Any state employee accepting a gift from an outside entity is subject to termination, under Governor Wolf’s rules. These facts are easily verifiable and the questions listed above should not be difficult to research.

    1. Where should the Covid + patients go when their hospital stay is over? If families are not willing to take them home where should the hospital send them? You can’t just designate a handful of facilities Covid+ and mandate that those residents in the facility move out and those Covid+ move in! The department of health would be all over that with fines! Please understand how the DOH works in these facilities. Why aren’t family members stepping up to the plate and taking their loved one home? This article doesn’t tell you that our neighbors in NJ have 361 facilities, Delaware 44 facilities and Maryland 288. The government spent so much time, energy and resources on the acute care hospitals and gave little thought to ILF, ALF and SNF residents. Now all of a sudden people want trash the staff and facilities for the issues. They shut down visitation early on which was proactive, set up units for quarantining residents and follow the necessary guidelines so before people start talking negative about these facilities they have done a ton of work preparing for this virus (most facilities have I am not speaking for all). WE are behind the eight ball on this because our government failed implementing timely procedures. I don’t care that her mother is in a hotel–good for her! As long as no rules were broken then there is no problem. Her mother was a well off attorney so I am sure she can afford the daily rate.

  4. Dr. Levine and Gov. Wolfe are both incompetent to lead this state. Their reckless decision making and unwillingness to put the PA resident’s well-being and livelihood first shows no integrity. They are both flat out not qualified to lead. They are causing irreversible harm to the residents and there actions are a threat to the entire state of PA. Here are some of the inconsistencies and damage done to this state: Gov. not following his own criteria threshold that he publically announced for opening counties / Gov. calling his own colleagues COWARDS publically / Gov running a UE System that is 50 years old and not able to support the taxpayers of this state / Gov & Levine do not have the proper mandates in nursing homes to keep our elderly and seniors SAFE / Gov – it’s factual that our region of the state should be fully open at this time.. BUT our Gov continues to have the reckless demeanor to continue to move S L O W for his own personal political agenda … causing irrevocable harm and violating the resident’s constitutional rights. All of these actions stem from RECKLESS LEADERSHIP and REQUIRE INVESTIGATION- they both should be removed.

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