How one Pittsburgh-area nursing home avoided a coronavirus surge in the ongoing pandemic

It was March when Kara Chipps watched in horror as TV networks covered a novel coronavirus that surfaced in a suburb east of Seattle at the Life Care Center of Kirkland. Within five weeks of the first reported case in the United States, Washington state health officials were sounding the alarm about an outbreak. By early April, COVID-19 infected 129 residents, staff and visitors to the Kirkland nursing home and has been associated with at least 40 deaths. “We were watching the news and basically seeing the numbers go up,” said Chipps, assistant director of nursing at McMurray Hills Manor in Washington County, Pa. Because the average patient at McMurray is 84 years old, staff worried COVID could wreak havoc at the 115-bed nonprofit facility located 15 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

Devyn Kahler-Harms, 22, stands outside of the Baldwin Borough apartment at which he then resided, with his fiance, on June 2, 2020. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

A year in Allegheny County ends in homelessness for two young trans men

A statewide moratorium on new eviction filings for non-payment of rent, which was instituted in March in response to the pandemic, runs through July 10. Its impending end, amid continued economic uncertainty, has some advocates bracing to head off a potential flood of evictions. Evictions filed in Allegheny County prior to the moratorium — like one filed against Devyn for failure to pay rent in February — were frozen on March 16 but allowed to resume on June 2.

What did Allegheny County spend on salaries and overtime in 2019? Explore the data.

After five years of increases, overtime costs for Allegheny County dropped roughly 2% in 2019. Spending dropped from $30.1 million in 2018 to $29.5 million last year.

Overtime costs, however, have increased during the pandemic. The county spent about $700,000 more in overtime from March through May this year, compared to the same period in 2019, according to Allegheny County Budget and Finance Department Director Mary Soroka.

Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ organizations have seen a surge in need since the COVID-19 shutdown. Many say cash is thin.

Alistair McQueen’s 84-year-old alter drag ego – Mildred the Lunch Lady – has a soft spot for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning [LGBTQ] “kids,” as she calls them. If not for the pandemic shuttering in-person Pride celebrations this summer, McQueen – a 30-year-old out-of-work bartender from Lawrenceville – would have competed this month as Mildred at the Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic for a chance to win $15,000 for one of his favorite LGBTQ nonprofit organizations in Pittsburgh: Proud Haven. The grand prize would have provided a much-needed financial boost. Had McQueen won, the $15,000 would have been equivalent to roughly 40% of the organization’s budget this year, which has been decimated by its COVID-19 response to the community. 

Since the economic shutdown, Proud Haven and other LGBTQ organizations in Pittsburgh have seen a surge in need. 

“The people who would help us are not able,” said Debbie Scotto, who in 2013 with her daughter founded Proud Haven, a volunteer-led organization that helps LGBTQ youth in Pittsburgh experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. 

“The cash has really grown a lot thinner.”

But the need for safe places has swelled. Brogan McGowan, a Proud Haven board member, said the number of LGBTQ youth needing emergency shelter has doubled in the pandemic – from 18 people needing help the first half of 2019 to 38 people needing emergency housing in 2020 to date.

What fallout might PA nursing homes face for becoming a ‘ground zero’ in the COVID-19 pandemic?

According to industry experts, disease forecasters, lawyers, lawmakers and advocates, the fallout from the unfolding failures at nursing homes will likely come on many fronts: civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions that could hobble the ability to provide quality care; budget cuts that threaten funding; and a possible contraction in facility ownership.