New choose for Pa. well being secretary attracts reward, hopes for ‘recent perspective’ in tackling COVID-19
As Pennsylvania battles the coronavirus pandemic and seeks to accelerate the spread of vaccines, the state Department of Health receives new leadership at a critical moment.
Governor Tom Wolf has appointed Alison Beam, his deputy chief of staff, to replace the outgoing Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, selected. President Biden has named Levine as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health.
Beam is not a doctor and comes from outside the health department. Neither of these facts should be a strike against Beam, said Zachary Shamberg, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities.
In fact, Shamberg said Beam should bring a much-needed “fresh perspective” to the coronavirus fight, especially for seniors and workers in nursing homes and other long-term facilities.
“We have missed the reaction and prioritization of employees and residents of long-term care providers,” Shamberg said. He added that Beam would “offer a new perspective and most importantly bring the stakeholders to the table”.
According to state data, more than half of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have occurred in long-term care facilities. Proponents say the seniors and staff at these facilities must be high on the priority list to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccines have been distributed to many qualified nursing homes in the state. However, proponents say more attention needs to be paid to vaccinating people in assisted living facilities and nursing homes where residents are extremely susceptible to COVID-19.
“We need to make the vaccine available to those who do assisted living and personal hygiene,” Shamberg said. And he expected Beam could help get vaccines into these facilities.
While Levine is a doctor, Beam is not, but Shamberg said she could rely on the health department’s doctors and epidemiologists to help develop guidelines.
Shamberg said he was optimistic that Beam would serve as health minister because of his work with her. He said Beam played a key role in working with government and lawmakers over the past year to provide $ 295 million in federal aid to long-term care facilities to help deal with the pandemic.
Beam “helped get those dollars where they were needed,” Shamberg said.
I’m looking for a clear vaccination schedule
The governor said Beam’s top priority is overseeing the distribution of the state’s COVID-19 vaccines, which is attracting increasing criticism.
- The rush for the COVID-19 vaccine is leading to dead ends, few shots and frustrations across Pa.
The Wolf government earlier this week expanded the eligibility for the vaccines to allow people over 65 and younger with chronic medical problems or high-risk conditions to receive the vaccines. However, many have struggled to find the vaccines or use a state card designed to direct people to places to take pictures. More and more health systems, pharmacies, and grocery stores are getting limited vaccines, but some only find disappointment trying to get shots. State officials urge Pennsylvanians to be patient.
To date, the state has given 585,000 COVID-19 vaccines. About 100,000 people received both doses of the vaccine. With the state populating around 12.8 million, vaccination efforts have barely started.
On Friday afternoon, Democratic State Senator Lindsey M. Williams attacked the state’s vaccine introduction and criticized the governor’s administration unusually harshly from a Democratic compatriot. Williams asked the health department for “a transparent, clearly communicated, and efficient vaccine distribution plan for Pennsylvanians.”
“There is an urgent need for Pennsylvanians to be able to sign up to be notified of when and where they are eligible to get a vaccine,” Williams said in a statement. She noted that a similar system operates in Philadelphia. The city has its own health department and monitors its own vaccine distribution.
“We need that kind of notification for all Pennsylvanians,” Williams said. “Almost a million Pennsylvanians have already downloaded the COVID Alert PA app on their phones. This would be a great opportunity to use this existing app so that individuals can sign up for the vaccine.”
Pennsylvania has lagged behind other states in vaccinating people. According to a review of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Associated Keystone State ranks 34th in the number of doses administered per 100,000 people. Williams cited West Virginia as a state that is working more effectively with smaller, independent pharmacies to sell vaccines.
“Pennsylvania needs to catch up with other states to facilitate vaccine distribution and communication,” Williams said.
Wolf said Beam helped coordinate the state’s pandemic response. Beam is up to the job of ensuring the vaccines are distributed, Wolf said.
“Your primary and immediate focus will be on the strategic distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure that Pennsylvania receives as many doses as possible from the federal government and that the Pennsylvania Department of Health coordinates with hospitals, health centers, counties and communities Pharmacy partners to make this vaccine as widely available as possible to Pennsylvanians everywhere, ”said Wolf.
“Deep roots in health policy”
Beam will begin serving as Acting Minister of Health on Saturday, January 23. Your nomination has yet to be approved by the Senate. State Senator Michele Brooks, chair of the Senate Health Committee, said Beam’s nomination was being scrutinized.
“The Health and Human Services Committee will do a thorough review, ask the many difficult questions that need to be asked, and go through a very careful, thorough, and considered process,” said Brooks, R-Mercer, in a statement.
US Senator Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., Called Beam “a dedicated and extremely competent official who will bring extensive experience in both the health sector and the Pennsylvania government to the role of Secretary of Health.”
In the Wolf Administration, Beam coordinated initiatives in Pennsylvania’s Health, Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Aging and Insurance departments.
The governor also welcomed Beam’s work in introducing Pennie, Pennsylvania’s health insurance market. Jay Costa, chairman of the Senate Minority, D-Allegheny, said Beam did an “excellent” job developing the state health insurance exchange.
Beam’s nomination received positive feedback from health care advocates such as the Hospital and Healthcare Association of Pennsylvania.
“Our association knows that it is deeply rooted in the Wolf Administration’s health policies and that it is aware of the many ways the Department of Health can transform our broader care structure in Pennsylvania. We know that Ms. Beam will draw on this wealth of experience in fulfilling her duties as secretary, and we look forward to building a valuable partnership with her for our common mission at this critical time, ”said the association.
In a statement, Penn State Health officials said they were “pleased” that the governor selected Beam for the post.
“Beam brings a wealth of public health experience to the DOH and we look forward to our continued collaboration as we bridge the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic with the strategic distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine through partnerships and coordination efforts Curb authorities. ” Penn State Health said in a statement.
Also on Friday, Wolf appointed Dr. Wendy Braund as Interim Acting Physician General, replacing Levine in that position. She will also take on this role on Saturday, January 23rd.
Braund played a pivotal role in the state’s pandemic, Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania Medical Society, which represents the state’s doctors, said the group looks forward to working with Beam and Braund to “stand up for the many issues that affect doctors and their patients, including the availability of COVID vaccines, in particular for our healthcare workers at the forefront. ”
Beam’s nomination was enthusiastically supported by an organization representing service providers for people with autism and other disabilities. Mark Davis, president of Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability, said he “strongly supports Governor Tom Wolf’s decision to appoint Alison Beam as Secretary of Health.”
“Ms. Beam has been a staunch advocate of people with intellectual disabilities and autism and of professionals with direct assistance,” said Davis. “She has worked with intelligence and integrity while working to improve the lives of all Pennsylvanians.”
Beam, who holds a law degree, was formerly chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner. She previously worked as Director of Public Policy and Associate Counsel for the Independence Health Group.
Beam graduated from Drexel University School of Law and holds a BS in Health Policy and Administration from Penn State University.
US Representative Susan Wild, D-Lehigh, said Beam’s leadership will ensure the state works with hospitals, health centers, and local governments “to make the COVID vaccine available to Pennsylvanians everywhere.”
Jan Murphy, head of PennLive Capitol’s office, contributed to this report.
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