Pennsylvania DMVA continues recovery from COVID-19 challenges

COVID-19 was the top topic of discussion at Tuesday’s General Assembly hearing with the Department of Military & Veteran Affairs.

Acting Adjutant General Mark Schindler told legislators all six veterans’ homes have implemented safety measures per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health, including Medicare.

“We’ve just finished administering vaccines to residents and employees,” he said.

In addition, a new coordinator of infectious control is being created to oversee operations and improve the quality of care to those residents, something initiated before the pandemic.

“We’re reviewing recommendations from the SEVC report on organizational structure, crisis management, infection control procedures and communications … to improve the quality of care,” Schindler said.

The DMVA came under fire after an audit showed 42 SEVC residents died of coronavirus in 2020, higher than deaths in other facilities under the DMVA’s supervision.

Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Connellsville, asked if the DMVA had input with the budget.

Gov. Tom Wolf is asking for a $157 million increase for the DMVA’s 2020-21 budget. That funding includes federal and other funds.

The total budget request is $404 million, an increase from $398 million for the current cycle.

Schindler said he had no input regarding the proposed budget and that the DMVA’s budget is a cost-to-carry budget.

That funding has been increased over the prior year, along with an increase in federal appropriations, he said.

“Are there plans for an adult day care at Southeast Veterans’ Center,” Stefano asked. “How many vets are expected to be served by the end of the year and what is anticipated rollout for the other veterans in the next year or two?”

Schindler said there is now a waitlist for homes due to the impact of the pandemic, which initially forced facilities to postpone admissions.

There are currently 441 on the waiting list, Schindler said, and some locations have re-opened in February, allowing for admission of small groups and quarantining them.

“Are you expecting an increase in veterans receiving care?” said Sen. Nikil Saval, R-Philadelphia.

Schindler said he expects that with 889 current residents, it is anticipated that with the 14,075 beds the DMVA has across the states would be sufficient even if they are all taken up by new residents and still be able to accommodate more veterans beyond that.

“We plan to do that as permissions go throughout the counties,” he said.