Biden administration nominee Rachel Levine faced scrutiny last May after she moved her mother out of a personal care facility shortly after she implemented a policy directing Pennsylvania’s nursing homes and certain care facilities to admit recovered COVID-19 patients who were treated at nearby hospitals.
Levine implemented the policy last March in her role as Pennsylvania’s health secretary. President-elect Joe Biden nominated Levine this week to serve in his administration as assistant health secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services.
In May, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Health told PennLive.com that Levine and her mother were notified that residents in her personal care facility had tested positive for the virus.
Levine stressed to the outlet that her mother had lived at a personal care facility, which is distinct from a nursing home, and that the facility did not fall under the jurisdiction of her agency.
By last May, Levine introduced strict guidelines in her state, including mass testing, in response to data that nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 deaths at the time were linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That same month, local news outlet WHTM in Harrisburg, Pa., reported that Levine had helped her mother to vacate a personal care home within the state.
"My mother requested, and my sister and I as her children complied to move her to another location during the Covid-19 outbreak," Levine said in a statement to the outlet at the time. "My mother is 95 years old. She is very intelligent and more than competent to make her own decisions."
The Biden-Harris transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Levine faced criticism over the policy, which directed long-term care facilities and nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients who were unable to return home or who had lived at the facilities prior to their hospitalization. The guidance noted, "this may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus."
Critics, including Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano and State Rep. Seth Grove, called out Levine for her handling of the virus, with some demanding her resignation.
"Our secretary of health, Dr. Levine, decided that it would be good to allow covid-positive patients to be returned to elder-care facilities. And as a result of that, it broke out like fire," Mastriano said at a May rally, according to TribLive.com.
Several states reported COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the early days of the pandemic. In August, the Department of Justice asked governors in states that implemented such orders, including Pennsylvania and New York, to submit data on whether they may have contributed to nursing home deaths.
The Biden-Harris transition has emphasized the incoming administration's plans to combat the coronavirus pandemic. President-elect Biden has set a goal to deliver 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses within his first 100 days in office.
Levine will become the first openly transgender federal official if confirmed by the Senate.
"Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond," Biden said in a statement on her nomination. "She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration's health efforts."