AHN Receives $350,000 from CDC to Study Use of Reusable P100 Respirators to Protect Frontline Healthcare Workers Amid Global Pandemics

(Photo Courtesy of AHN)

Pittsburgh, Pa – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has awarded Allegheny Health Network (AHN) a $350,000 contract to further evaluate and assess the use of reusable elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMR) in the healthcare field and their sustainability during global public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by AHN chief medical operations officer, Sricharan Chalikonda, MD, the project titled “Best Practices and Preferred Uses of Reusable Elastomeric Half Mask Respirators  in Healthcare,” will formally survey clinical populations at AHN, evaluate and aggregate that data to propose respective guidelines for putting EHMR into practice during times of global PPE shortages.

As the national supply of N95 respirators dwindled during the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, AHN was one of the first health systems in the country to pilot the use of EHMRs by frontline caregivers. The Network partnered with Pittsburgh-based MSA Safety (NYSE: MSA) to secure the respirators for its caregivers.  EHMRs are often used in the construction industry and closely resemble gas masks that cover both the nose and mouth. They feature P-100 rated cartridge filters, meaning they filter out at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles.

“The MSA Advantage® 200LS EHMRs with P100 filters fit roughly 94 percent of the 2,000 clinicians who received them, and of that population, not one caregiver chose to return to using disposable N95s. They are extremely cost-effective, able to withstand rigorous cleanings and overall have been very well-received,” said Dr. Chalikonda, principal investigator of the CDC/NIOSH funded project.

AHN published its initial observations and findings about the use of the MSA EHMRs in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons in June. The authors of the study, led by Dr. Chalikonda, stated that these long-lasting respirators cost at least 10 times less per month than disinfecting and reusing N95s intended for single-use.

The current AHN research initiative will be conducted through NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Technology Lab (NPPTL), based in Pittsburgh, which is the lead federal laboratory responsible for approving all respirators used in workplaces across the country and conducting research and evaluations of PPE such as respirators, gloves, surgical gowns and more. AHN hopes its findings will further educate industry peers about the efficacy of EHMRs with P100 filters in the setting of a pandemic and establish industry implementation guidelines.

“Since we’re one of the first early-adopters of reusable EHMRs, we have a unique opportunity to serve as a model for the industry, by engaging with our clinicians and leveraging their feedback and experiences to further develop effective PPE strategies,” continued Dr. Chalikonda. “To that end, we’ve designed a comprehensive survey and intend to collect responses from up to 1,000 frontline employees who used the masks during the initial pilot phase.”

A sampling of survey topics include mask discomfort, communication challenges, training, disinfecting methods and ease of frequent use, among others.

In addition to Dr. Chalikonda, other AHN leaders participating in the study include Hope Waltenbaugh, vice president of surgical services; Sara Angelilli, director, perioperative education; Meghan Napoli, quality process engineer; and Brian Blend, project manager.

“We’re beyond grateful to the CDC’s NIOSH organizations for recognizing the ingenuity of the clinical teams across Allegheny Health Network,” said Dr. Chalikonda. “We’re confident that our experience can ultimately help guide other health institutions on establishing effective PPE strategies that enable them to maximize the safety of their caregivers and patients.

Smokers in Pa. Move to the Front of the Line to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine

(Harrisburg, Pa.) The Pennsylvania Department of Health has made a very controversial move in updating those who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine in Phase 1A in the state.
Smokers are now among a new group of Pennsylvanians that are eligible to move to the front of the line to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The department said in a press release that “Pennsylvania has chosen to follow the CDC’s recommendations and include smoking among the list of medical conditions putting individuals at greater risk.”

Officials point to public health experts who agree that smoking is associated with the increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Pennsylvania passes 20K deaths from the coronavirus

Pennsylvania passes 20K deaths from the coronavirus
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania has surpassed 20,000 deaths from the coronavirus. The state Department of Health reported Thursday that another 260 people died from the virus, pushing the total during the pandemic past 20,120. Pennsylvania’s seven-day average of deaths reported hit its highest point in the pandemic earlier this month, according to the COVID Tracking Project. However, the numbers of new infections reported and coronavirus patients in hospitals and intensive care units have continued to drop throughout January. The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has dropped below 4,900, while the number of patients in the intensive care unit with Covid-19 has dropped below 900.

Wolf Administration Reminds Older Adults of Their Rights Regarding Federal Stimulus Checks 

Wolf Administration Reminds Older Adults of Their Rights Regarding Federal Stimulus Checks 

Harrisburg, PA – As Pennsylvanians receive a second round of federal stimulus payments as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, the Pennsylvania departments of Aging, Human Services (DHS) and Insurance are again reminding consumers living in long-term care facilities that these checks belong to them, not the facilities where they live.

“When the first round of federal stimulus checks went out last spring, we received complaints that involved residents of long-term care facilities being told that their federal stimulus checks count as income that must be surrendered, in part or in whole, to pay for services. What we said then, we repeat now: Residents should know that this is not true,” said Pennsylvania State Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Margaret Barajas of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. “These stimulus payments are issued with the general expectation that long-term care residents – like all citizens receiving checks – will make their own choices about how to spend their money. I, as the State Ombudsman, am committed to advocating for and resolving these issues for older adults, case-by-case.”

DHS has issued guidance for how economic impact payments affect the eligibility of those receiving long-term care for Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, Medical Assistance (MA). This guidance directs that the economic payment is not considered income for the purposes of MA eligibility. The portion of the economic impact payments that are spent within 12 months of receipt is also considered an excluded resource for MA eligibility. DHS also issued guidance on economic impact payments for personal care homes and assisted living residences.  There should be no change to a resident’s monthly charges in their contract due to this payment. Residents may direct their concerns or complaints to the DHS Complaint Hotline at 877-401-8835.

“We want to assure residents of these facilities that these stimulus payments are theirs – it is not meant to be a rent rebate,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “No one should worry that accepting this payment will affect their ability to keep Medicaid eligibility or their housing. The Department of Aging and DHS are working closely together to make sure that people who live in long-term care facilities are aware of their rights to this economic payment. Any resident of a facility who is concerned that their payment is in jeopardy should reach out to the Pennsylvania State Long-Term Care Ombudsman right away.”

“The Insurance Department has remained dedicated to ensuring Pennsylvania residents are clear that neither Medicaid, nor the facility in which a Medicaid beneficiary resides, has rights to an individual’s stimulus check,” said Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman. “Stimulus checks are tax credits and the Federal Trade Commission has continued to make this clear since last Spring. The payments are not ‘resources’ for purposes of qualifying for federal benefit programs and may not be taken from residents.”

“One of our key responsibilities at the Department of Aging is to advocate on behalf of older adults,” said Aging Secretary Robert Torres. “Part of that involves making sure older adults, whatever their living situation, know their rights and where they can turn to for help and information. The federal government has made it clear that these stimulus payments should go directly to the individual whose name is on the check. If an older adult or their loved one has questions or concerns, they should seek help.”

Consumers with concerns should call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office at 800-441-2555. But if they need some extra help preparing to make their complaint, the Department of Aging’s LTC State Ombudsman is happy to offer support. The number to call for help is 717-783-8975.

Sec. Torres also noted that consumers may receive the Economic Impact Payment by prepaid debit card, instead of by paper check. These cards arrive in a plain white envelope. EIP Card recipients can make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs, and transfer funds to their personal bank account without incurring any fees. The EIP Card can be used online, at ATMs, or at any retail location where Visa is accepted. Some people who received a paper check last time might receive a prepaid debit card this time, and some people who received a prepaid debit card last time may receive a paper check. To learn more about stimulus payment eligibility or check on the status of a payment, visit www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

Possible Delays In Stimulus Check Deliveries for People Who Used Tax Preparation Companies to File Taxes

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro is today alerting consumers that certain Pennsylvanians may experience delays in receiving their federal stimulus checks.

“As federal stimulus checks are being distributed to Pennsylvanians, there may be some delays,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “If you’re eligible for a stimulus check and haven’t received one, you can call the IRS or visit their website to file a complaint.”

Tax preparation companies, like H&R Block and Intuit, use temporary bank accounts when they assist with filing tax returns. Unfortunately, the IRS used that information to issue stimulus checks, and therefore, some of the checks have been held up.

Pennsylvanians who are affected by this issue and have not yet received their stimulus checks should expect to receive them after February 1, when the IRS issues a second round of payments through mailed checks.

If you qualify, and have not yet received your stimulus check, you can contact the IRS at 1-800-919-9835 or go to www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.

Wolf Administration Announces $600 Pandemic Relief Awards to Eligible Child Care Employees Across Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced the opportunity for one-time, $600 grants for child care workers across Pennsylvania. The funds are available to child care providers licensed by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) through federal Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) quality dollars and remaining funding previously made available through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated for child care providers.

“A healthy, vibrant child care industry is a cornerstone of a healthy economy. As with many other sectors of our economy, Pennsylvania’s child care providers have been greatly challenged by this pandemic,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “For nearly a year, child care professionals have continued to work through a challenging environment, providing a safe and caring setting for our youngest Pennsylvanians as their parents go to work performing essential work through a tumultuous period. We are incredibly grateful for their commitment to our children and families and their resilience through this time.”

This award is available to all licensed child care providers that are currently open and operating regardless of Keystone STARS level and will be administered through local Early Learning Resource Centers (ELRCs) on behalf of OCDEL and will replace the quality Keystone STARS Education and Retention Award (ERA) for state fiscal year 2020-2021, and provide approximately 33,000 child care employees across the commonwealth the one-time $600 award. The previous ERA provided payments to approximately 9,000 child care employees, so this restructuring will significantly expand this reach during a time of great need.

“Child care workers shape and care for our youngest minds during some of their most formative years, and a safe, loving child care center can be an extension of family for parents and children who rely on their work,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. “I am incredibly grateful that we are able to reallocate this federal funding to support the child care workforce, and I urge all providers to apply for this opportunity on behalf of their staff.

Eligible employees include child care workers who:

  1. Are employed by a licensed child care provider as of January 1, 2021;
  2. Earn less than or equal to a gross salary of $70,000, annually; and,
  3. Work a minimum of 20 hours per week at a licensed child care provider.

Child care providers that are currently licensed and certified through OCDEL can begin to apply on behalf of their eligible employees. All applications must be sent to the provider’s ELRC and received by February 12, 2021. The COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Award will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Funding will be distributed regionally and be limited, so applicants are encouraged to apply sooner rather than later.

In addition to repurposing these existing funds, approximately $220 million in CARES funding has been allocated to support child care providers across Pennsylvania since the COVID-19 crisis began in Pennsylvania to support this critical educational and economic infrastructure for children and families across the commonwealth. The distribution method of CARES funding was based in part on the findings of researchers at Penn State Harrisburg’s Institute of State and Regional Affairs, who studied the impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania’s child care industry.

On December 27, 2020, an additional $10 billion dollars was allocated by the federal government to support child care. States should receive their share of the additional funds made available in the coming weeks.

For more information on child care providers operating during the COVID-19 public health crisis, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

Ontario asks Biden for a million vaccines amid Shortage

TORONTO (AP) — Canada won’t be getting any Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines next week and 50% fewer than expected over the next month, officials said Tuesday, prompting the leader of Canada’s most populous province to ask U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to share a million doses from Pfizer’s Michigan plant.

Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout and distribution of vaccines, called it a major reduction, but said Pfizer is still expected to meet its contractual obligation to ship four million doses to Canada by the end of March.

U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer confirmed last week it would temporarily reduce deliveries to Europe and Canada of its COVID-19 vaccine while it upgrades production capacity at its plant in Puurs, Belgium. Pfizer’s Belgian plant supplies all shots delivered outside the U.S. Fortin said other countries have been impacted this week and that Canada will be impacted next week.

“Pfizer assured me and Canada of equitable treatment,” Procurement Minister Anita Anand said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when he spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week, she told him that media have been asking her why Germany isn’t doing as well as Canada on vaccines.

Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said he’s angry. He asked Biden to help Canada out, noting there’s a Pfizer plant in Michigan.

“Our American friends, help us out,” Ford said. “You have a new president, no more excuses. Help us out.”

Ford notes Ontario is a large trading partner to the U.S.

“I can’t help but ask the president,” Ford said. “The least thing you can do … give us a million vaccines. You have a hundred million down there. Give your great neighbor which stands shoulder to shoulder with you a million vaccines to get us over the hump. That’s what we would love to see from the president.”

A mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, temporarily closed due to the shortage.


Norm Mitry, Heritage Valley President and CEO talked Vaccines on Teleforum

(Beaver Falls, Pa.) Norm Mitry, President and CEO of Heritage Valley Health System, joined Mike Romigh on Teleforum Wednesday to discuss the COVID-19 Vaccine and Heritage Valley Health Systems roll in trying to vaccinate all Beaver County residents. Mitry talked about the recent changes that were handed down by the health department and with those changes how Heritage Valley will go about administering the vaccine.  You can listen to the entire interview by pressing the play button below:



Heritage Valley to Take Registration for Vaccine Under New Guidelines

Story by Beaver County Radio News Correspondent Sandy Giordano

(Moon Twp., Pa.) Later this week heritage Valley will  begin  the COVID-19  registration  process for those individuals 65 and over. The process is being done  per the recently modified  PA DOH’S  guidance, according to Suzanne Sakson HVHS  director of marketing and communications. As the vaccines come available  those that register will receive a link  to electronically schedule the date and time of both their first and second dose. HVHS  is slated to receive the Moderna vaccine, the  2 doses need to be administered 28 days apart. Those not having computer access will be provided with a phone number to register.,. The registration link will be www.heritagevalley.org. Sites for the vaccination administration are the CCBC Dome, January 28 and 29, February 9, 10,and 11, former heritage Valley site in Robinson Township ,February 1, 16, and 17, 2021.

Pennsylvania expands vaccine eligibility to 65 and older

Pennsylvania expands vaccine eligibility to 65 and older
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press
Pennsylvania is expanding eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine in the initial phase of the rollout to include people age 65 and over as well as younger people with serious health conditions that put them at higher risk. State health officials made the announcement Tuesday. The Health Department says its updated coronavirus vaccine plan tracks recommendations from the federal government, but it’s uncertain how the expanded rollout will work given the slow pace of vaccinations so far and limitations on supplies. The major expansion comes amid word that the state’s top health official, Dr. Rachel Levine, is President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be assistant secretary of health.