Nicole C. Brambila is an award-winning investigative journalist. A graduate of Texas State University, she began her journalism career two decades ago, reporting for various news outlets in the Lone Star State, Southern California and Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to PublicSource, she was a data reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and an investigative reporter for the Reading Eagle. Her recognitions include state, regional and national awards, including in 2017 being an IRE finalist for a soil study that found residences that should have been cleaned under a 2000 EPA order were contaminated with lead. A frustrated screenwriter, Nicole is currently writing a YA dystopian novel with her writing partner.
As part of PublicSource’s election coverage, we asked readers what they wanted to know about the unprecedented challenge voters and officials will face in a presidential election held during a global pandemic. We received dozens of questions and selected a few to start.
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.
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.
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 spent about $252.7 million to pay 4,037 employees in 2019, a PublicSource review of salary data shows. That figure comprises salary, overtime and bonuses, and represents a roughly 7% increase over the 2018, when the city had 55 fewer employees.
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.
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.