Pennsylvania State Sen. Douglas V. Mastriano, a Republican from the south-central part of the state, is calling for the resignation of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

During a May 11 press conference in Harrisburg, Mastriano claimed that Levine’s policies have contributed to the deaths of 2,500 residents in the state’s long-term care facilities.

“Our secretary of health, Dr. Levine, decided it would be good to allow COVID-positive patients to be returned [from hospitals] to elder-care facilities. And as a result of that, [COVID-19] broke out like fire,” Mastriano said, during the press conference.

After the press conference, Mastriano hand-delivered to the office of Gov. Tom Wolf a two-page letter urging Wolf to request Levine’s resignation. The letter accuses Levine of “gross incompetence.” Wolf wasn’t inside his office to receive Mastriano’s letter. But during a May 11 press conference, Wolf expressed staunch support for Levine. 

“Dr. Levine has done a phenomenal job of making sure that we do what we need to do in keeping Pennsylvanians safe,” Wolf said. “I think it’s a tribute to her that Pennsylvania has actually done a better job than many of our surrounding states in terms of the infection rate and the death rate.”.

Mastriano represents Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties. He couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.

Levine has served as the state’s health secretary since March 2018.  She oversees 1,300 staffers and is the highest-ranking transgender official in Pennsylvania state government. Levine graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine. She completed her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Of the 3,800 Pennsylvanians who have died of the coronavirus, more than two-thirds were residents of nursing or personal-care homes, according to state Department of Health data.

During a May 12 press conference, Levine outlined numerous steps being taken to ensure the safety of residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have focused our efforts to protect residents living in [long-term care facilities] by ensuring residents’ safety, preventing and mitigating outbreaks, and working in partnership with state agencies, local health departments and long-term care operators,” she said.

Levine said the state is committed to testing all patients and staff in Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities. She said tests would be processed by both commercial laboratories and a state-funded lab in Exton. She also noted that the Pennsylvania National Guard is mobilizing to provide a mobile testing option for facilities that may not be able to test on their own. “This effort will give us a clearer picture of the extent of outbreaks in nursing homes and a head start at stopping them,” Levine said. 

Additionally, the state health department has delivered about 1,700 shipments of personal protective equipment to skilled nursing homes, personal care homes and other long-term care facilities, she said.

Moreover, an infection-control contractor working with the state has provided technical assistance and support to nearly 100 long-term care facilities. When necessary, the state health department assists in coordinating staffing of facilities in crisis. This coordination has supported 10 facilities by supplementing their on-site staff, thus preventing their evacuation, Levine said.

Levine also urged Pennsylvanians to continue practicing social distancing in all 67 counties. This practice will help prevent nursing home staffers from getting infected and subsequently infecting nursing home residents.

“We need to all do our best to protect these vulnerable people in these facilities,” she concluded. “I am committed and the governor is committed and the administration is committed to doing everything we can to make sure that Pennsylvanians are safe.”

Levine was unavailable for an interview for this story. But she issued the following statement regarding Mastriano’s call for her resignation: “I always serve at the pleasure of the Governor and will continue to serve under his leadership as Secretary of Health. I remain laser-focused on protecting the health and wellbeing of Pennsylvanians.”Individuals with complaints about a nursing home can file that complaint with the state health department in multiple ways. Complaints can be made anonymously by calling 1-800-254-5164, filling out an online complaint form, emailing [email protected] or sending the complaint via the U.S. Postal Service to the department.