Although skilled nursing facilities are the target of newly announced criminal neglect investigations in Pennsylvania amid COVID-19 outbreaks, the state attorney general’s office said those investigations could extend to other types of long-term care facilities, which could include assisted living communities and personal care homes, in the future.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday that his office had opened criminal investigations into several skilled nursing facilities after receiving complaints regarding criminal neglect of patients and residents. 

The Attorney General’s Neglect Team reviews specific allegations of “mistreatment of care-dependent adults who are endangered or suffer injury resulting from caretaker neglect” to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. Complaints can come from local officials, the Department of Health or members of the public.

A spokesperson from the attorney general’s press office told McKnight’s Senior Living that the state “could expand our investigation to include other facilities if credible allegations of neglect are reported to us.”

Zach Shamberg, president and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said this is a time the state should be partnering with long-term care providers on “essential initiatives,” including personal protective equipment, testing and staffing. 

“The attorney general has shared no specific area of investigation and seemed to indicate the examination of Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities is connected to negligent care provided during the single worst pandemic in recent history,” Shamberg told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We hope to work with the attorney general, his staff and all levels of state government in partnership, rather than opposition, moving forward. Our most vulnerable residents depend on it.”

According to figures released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Tuesday, there are 12,130 resident cases of COVID-19 and 1,724 cases among employees in nursing and personal care homes statewide, for a total of 13,854 at 540 facilities in 44 counties. Out of the total deaths, 2,611 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

The state called in the National Guard has to assist at more than 10 nursing homes statewide.

“Protecting seniors and our most vulnerable in the care of others is one of the core responsibilities of my office, and we’re stepping up to protect older Pennsylvanians during this crisis. We will hold nursing facilities and caretakers criminally accountable if they fail to properly provide care to our loved ones,” Shapiro said in a statement. 

Shapiro’s announcement came after state health officials outlined new protocols to fight the coronavirus pandemic in assisted living communities, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Residents and employees of those facilities will be required to undergo weekly testing beginning May 17. The facilities also will be required to report confirmed cases, deaths and the number of tests performed to the state health department. 

The state Senate on Tuesday also passed Senate Bill 1122, which includes $50 million in emergency funding for assisted living communities and personal care homes and $245 million for nursing homes to help them cover COVID-19-related costs.

“This is an important step in the legislative process, and we now look forward to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure our most vulnerable residents receive the aid they need,” Shamberg said. “After more than two months of uncertainty, the members of the Senate sent much-needed help to long-term care providers, workers and their residents. We thank them for their support.”