As Broad + Liberty’s Todd Shepherd reported last week, Dr. Rachel Levine is set to glide through the nomination process to become the next U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health.
During her senate committee hearing, a few tough questions about her record came from Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, the national media focused on an exchange between Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Levine over medical treatments for transgender minors.
This is a shame. Leaving the culture war aside, her tenure as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health leaves much to be answered for that is relevant to the position to which she has been nominated.
Here are five questions that U.S. Senators should be asking Levine before they vote to approve or not approve of her nomination:
1. Did you mislead the press when you blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for your mandate that Pennsylvania nursing homes and care facilities admit Covid-positive patients?
On June 27, 2020, Levine passed off responsibility for her policy of forcing long-term care facilities to intake Covid-positive patients, saying she “was following a March directive from the Centers for Disease Control.” But the facts contradict Levine’s excuse.
The March 13 guidance from the CDC that she was referencing stated, “Nursing homes should admit any individuals that they would normally admit to their facility, including individuals from hospitals where a case of COVID-19 was/is present.” The CDC further qualified that recommendation by saying, “a nursing home can accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19 and still under Transmission Based Precautions for COVID-19 as long as the facility can follow CDC guidance for Transmission-Based Precautions. If a nursing home cannot, it must wait until these precautions are discontinued.”
Levine’s March 18 order, on the other hand, states that, “Nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital…This may include stable patients who have had the Covid-19 virus.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health did clarify some recommendations with regard to isolating patients with Covid-19 in Health Alert Network messages on April 3rd and 14th. However, in none of those messages did the DOH relay the CDC guidance that nursing homes could accept a resident with Covid-19 as long as the facility could follow transmission-based precautions.
Her tenure as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health leaves much to be answered for.
Levine’s order was a requirement, while the CDC’s was a recommendation based on a nursing home’s ability to handle potentially infectious patients.
Last weekend, the AP repeated another defense of Levine’s that no Pennsylvania nursing home has reported being forced to take Covid patients despite the rule — as if a regulation’s legitimacy is based on the degree to which those who are bound by it struggle. However, trade association officials told Broad + Liberty for this editorial that press conferences conducted by DOH officials in the spring led to concern that the order was, indeed, a mandate and that the order caused confusion as hospitals attempted to discharge Covid-positive patients.
So, did you mislead the press when you blamed your Covid intake mandate on the CDC?
2. When did you move your mother out of her personal care home and into a hotel?
News of Levine’s 95-year-old mother being taken out of a personal care home broke in May, two months after the order that Covid-positive patients be readmitted to such facilities. However, it is still not known when exactly the decision to move her mother was made, and if the family’s decision was influenced by Levine’s readmissions policy.
When did you move your mother out of her personal care home and into a hotel?
Americans deserve to know if Levine knew she was causing other people’s relatives to face a danger that she preemptively helped her mother avoid. Pennsylvania is the largest state where nursing home and care facility deaths account for over 50% of statewide Covid deaths. As State Rep. Russ Diamond wrote in an editorial last year, “This is the health care equivalent of insider trading, except that when it happens in the investment industry, mere dollars are at stake. Human lives were at stake here.”
The earlier Levine moved her mother, the truer Diamond’s analogy is.
So, when did you move your mother out of a care home and into a hotel?
3. Did you establish any plan to vaccinate Pennsylvanians prior to accepting this nomination?
Since the moment states have been able to begin distributing vaccines, Pennsylvania has ranked near the bottom in the proportion of population vaccinated. At the time of writing, we stand seventh from the bottom according to Johns Hopkins’ University’s ranking of each state and territory.
Levine should not be allowed to wash her hands of this bumbling vaccine rollout. Documents obtained by Broad + Liberty show her involvement in vaccine planning into the first week of January, after the state had received its first shipments. Yet, acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam has faced significant scrutiny since taking over. Most notably, she had to reveal last week that tens of thousands of vaccines meant as a second dose were administered as a first dose due to shoddy DOH guidelines — guidelines that were undoubtedly put in place prior to her tenure.
So, what was the vaccination plan for Pennsylvania, and has it been executed to your liking?
4. Noting that Pennsylvania has ranked near the bottom of states for both testing and vaccination, are you planning to make any changes to your approach as Assistant Secretary of Health?
It is beyond question that Levine owns Pennsylvania’s track record of failure on Covid-19 testing.
An analysis of 10 months’ worth of data from the Covid Tracking Project shows Pennsylvania was consistently at the bottom of the barrel when compared to 17 other states in the New England, Mid Atlantic, and Great Lakes regions.
Contemporaneous reports from May, July, Nov., Dec., and Jan. back up that analysis.
Pennsylvania faced no unique circumstances that health officials in neighboring states did not share. The poor performance came from inferior planning and execution.
To this day — when labs have been converted and testing resources are far more available than in March or April — the Pennsylvania DOH website on testing advice is still a mess, while New Jersey’s website gives clear, understandable advice.
So, what will change in your approach to avoid taking Pennsylvania’s failures to the national level?
5. Why did you choose to close small businesses in the spring of 2020, but leave big box stores open?
While the creation of the haphazard “nonessential business” list, the sudden forced closure of those businesses, and the controversial waiver program are matters that all Pennsylvanians should find deeply concerning, a more fundamental question is: why did the closures focus on small businesses?
Gov. Wolf was able to order the closures based on the state’s disease prevention law. Through the Department of Community and Economic Development, which implemented the closure lists, Wolf acted on recommendations coming from the DOH. In the end, businesses like WalMart, Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, major grocery chains, and other multinational corporations remained open and raked in huge profits. On the other hand, tens of thousands of small businesses in Pennsylvania were forced to close for months and uncounted thousands have never reopened.
One example is Kleckner & Sons in the Lehigh Valley. The sellers of dishwashers, refrigerators, and washing machines had to close its showroom thanks to Levine’s and Wolf’s orders. Kleckner’s owners and employees, meanwhile, watched Lowes and Home Depot make record profits.
Despite constant requests for data from journalists, Levine and her department never provided sufficient scientific justification for these actions.
So, why did your Department of Health choose to target small businesses only for forced closure?
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