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'Behind The Berlin Wall': As Pa. National Guard Helps At Beaver Co. Nursing Home, Families Hope It Isn't Too Late

BEAVER COUNTY (KDKA) -- Over three dozen National Guard members are now inside Brighton Rehab and Wellness Center in Beaver County.

The facility is one of the hot spots in the state for coronavirus.

"It all happened very fast," said Lt. Col. Keith Hickox with the Pennsylvania National Guard.

On Saturday, the state sent a team to Beaver Co. to assess the nursing home's situation.

On Monday morning, the guard was on the ground to help.

Some community members with loved ones in the facility are now questioning if the help is a little too late.

"I feel like they let down our parents. They let down families being tight-lipped, and I feel like my mother is behind the Berlin Wall," said Judith Marie, whose mother lives at Brighton.

(Photo Credit KDKA)

Marie was one of the first family members to demand the state use extra resources to help Beaver County's largest nursing home.

Her request came back in March.

"The numbers speak for themselves, 440 beds and 350-plus cases of COVID-19 and 71 people dead. That's unacceptable," Marie told KDKA.

Two weeks ago, her mother tested positive and has since recovered from the virus. She said she's still in a room with three other people and their conditions are unknown.

Marie told KDKA she is hopeful the guard will be able to separate the sick from the healthy to improve the facility's situation.

"I'm happy my mother is doing well, just I hope she can stay well," Marie said.

This is the 12th nursing home in the state the Department of Health has sent the National Guard in to assist.

"Six months ago, we would have never ever thought we'd be responding in this type of way such a medically focused response," Hickox said.


Hickox told KDKA the state sent a medical support team of 27, plus a special team of 11, to provide hazardous training to Brighton for a seven-day assignment.

"This training unit is designed and specifically, very specially trained to go into those very hazardous situations. So they are utmost experts in personal protective equipment," Hickox said.

The medical support staff will focus on non-acute patients in order to free up the permanent staff to help acute patients.

Hickox said the guard typically doesn't focus on elderly patients, but they have two geriatric doctors assisting them in the process.

"The way we refer to it is that we helped them get over the hump. So between staffing shortages or whatever their particular problem was, it was temporary. Some it could be that staff members were showing symptoms or called off so we filled those gaps. Then we help them establish a plan on how to move forward during the pandemic," Hickox said.

The guard's assignment is until May 18, but Brighton officials have the opportunity to extend the stay if they need more help.

In response to the guard arriving, Brighton officials released the following statement to KDKA:

"Like many long-term care facilities across the country, we cannot defeat COVID-19 alone and welcome any and all help from the federal and state resources to help us minimize the impact of this deadly pandemic. This week, we have finally secured the assistance of the Pennsylvania National Guard who will provide non-clinical resources to support general housekeeping tasks including cleaning, meal preparation and service, and daily living support like bathing and feeding. As experts in crisis response, guard members are skilled in providing critical support wherever it is needed and will allow our clinical teams to solely focus on resident healthcare. Additionally, through our close partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, we will be receiving enhanced managerial support to provide additional expertise, oversight and assistance with our facility's comprehensive infectious disease control measures. The entire Brighton community is grateful to receive the vital assistance we have been seeking since the beginning of this global pandemic. Our chief goal is to defeat COVID-19 and preserve the health and well-being of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. Our Brighton team has fought tirelessly for our residents and will continue to do so until this virus has been completely eradicated."

The PA Department of Health also said Monday that it appointed a temporary manager, Allaire Health Services of New Jersey.

Dr. Rachel Levine said the manager will be in place until Brighton is able to achieve substantial compliance with the recommendations or the rate of infection is substantially reduced.

"The department will pay the fees and costs for the temporary management from the state's civil monetary penalty fund. However, Brighton still remains responsible for all expenses in maintaining the operations of the facility," the state said in a press release.

Dr. Levine said the state will continue to be actively involved at Brighton, including performing inspections.

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