Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Wednesday released a new report on deficiencies at the Southeastern Veterans’ Center — where at least 42 people died of COVID-19 — and called on Gov. Tom Wolf to release the results of an investigation into how the state-run nursing home handled the coronavirus.
The report confirms the key findings of Inquirer investigations in April and May, which reported the 238-bed home in Chester County had taken a lax approach to the pandemic, with supervisors discouraging nurses and aides from wearing masks to avoid frightening the service veterans.
Dozens of residents would later die of COVID-19 in rapid succession. Top officials initially kept families in the dark about the spread of the virus.
DePasquale’s report also backs a state and federal health inspection report, published in July, which found that SEVC officials placed elderly residents in “immediate jeopardy” by ignoring infection-control guidelines, while instilling in staffers a fear of retaliation that discouraged them from speaking out.
“Our veterans and their families deserve the best quality of care available, as well as full transparency about any failures that may have put veterans’ lives in danger,” DePasquale said Wednesday at an online news conference.
In May, the Governor’s Office of General Counsel hired an outside firm to investigate how officials at SEVC responded to the coronavirus pandemic. The investigation was also expected to look into the actions of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which runs SEVC and five other nursing homes for veterans.
That investigation is ongoing. DePasquale said Wednesday that Wolf should make it public when it is completed.
Staffers interviewed by The Inquirer in April and May attributed many of the problems at SEVC to then-Commandant Rohan Blackwood and his senior staff. Blackwood and his director of nursing, Deborah Mullane, were suspended in May as the state investigation got underway.
SEVC staffers interviewed for DePasquale’s report said they would work, all in one shift, with residents who were positive for COVID-19, those who were showing symptoms and awaiting tests results, and healthy residents. One licensed practical nurse said residents continued dining communally as the virus spread.
“One day, a resident … showed all the symptoms (of COVID) around lunchtime but she was still eating in the dining room. … Two days later, she went to the hospital and tested positive for COVID, and she died three days later,” the nurse said.
SEVC passed state health inspections in August and September, DePasquale said.
DePasquale’s report did not include any major new findings about the state’s pandemic response. It did not mention SEVC’s use of an unproven drug touted by President Donald Trump, hydroxychloroquine, at a time when the Food and Drug Administration warned that it should not be administered outside of a hospital. Members of two families said SEVC employees did not first seek their permission.