Fact Check: Did Biden's Health Pick Put COVID-19 Patients Into Nursing Homes?

Joe Biden's nomination for assistant secretary of health could make history if confirmed by the Senate.

On Tuesday, he announced Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's current secretary of health who has been helping lead the state's response to coronavirus, as his pick. If confirmed, Levine would be the first transgender federal official.

Over the past year, Levine has garnered criticism, along with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, regarding the state's response to the pandemic due to the high amount of coronavirus-related nursing home deaths.

The criticism, which has reignited after she has been named Biden's pick, has come from a few Republican leaders, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

The Claim

Greene took to Twitter early Tuesday, when she wrote, "President-elect @JoeBiden's pick for assistant secretary of health 'likely contributed to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania' by placing COVID positive patients into nursing homes. This person is unfit to be confirmed by the Senate."

The tweet has garnered thousands of interactions.

President-elect @JoeBiden’s pick for assistant secretary of health “likely contributed to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania” by placing COVID positive patients into nursing homes.

This person is unfit to be confirmed by the Senate. pic.twitter.com/aSglYGuHZd

— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) January 19, 2021

The Facts

Levine has been a part of Wolf's administration since 2015, when she was named the state's physician general.

She assumed her current position of state health secretary in 2018 and has been working to respond to the state's coronavirus needs.

Currently, there are more than 777,000 coronavirus positive cases in Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued an update stating there have been 19,467 coronavirus-related deaths statewide.

Of the deaths, 10,022 are associated with nursing homes and personal care facilities in Pennsylvania, according to recent data from the state Department of Health.

#COVID19 Update (as of 1/19/21 at 12:00 am):
• 5,341 additional positive cases of COVID-19
• 777,186 total cases statewide
• 19,467 deaths statewide
• 3,494,279 patients tested negative to date

More information: https://t.co/7pzosEXhEX

— PA Department of Health (@PAHealthDept) January 19, 2021

Last March, the department issued a guidance titled "Interim Guidance for Nursing Facilities During COVID-19" for Pennsylvania nursing home facilities to follow.

In an effort to alleviate the burden on primary care settings such as hospitals, the guidance states that nursing homes "must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable," and that "This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus."

A few months after this guidance was issued, Levine made the decision to remove her 95-year-old mother from a personal care home while coronavirus nursing home-related deaths were increasing.

Levine defended her decision in a press conference last May by saying she complied with her mother's requests to be removed and that her mother is "more than competent to make her own decisions."

This decision was criticized on Tuesday morning after Biden's announcement by Republican Congressional candidate Sean Parnell in a tweet in which he claims that "Dr. Levine took her own mother out of a nursing home prior to ordering COVID infected patients into them. Thousands died. This should go without saying, but she should not be getting a promotion."

Dr. Levine took her own mother out of a nursing home prior to ordering COVID infected patients into them. Thousands died.
This should go without saying, but she should not be getting a promotion. https://t.co/8d9Hf1dqbp

— Sean Parnell (@SeanParnellUSA) January 19, 2021

Last June, after Levine removed her mother from a personal care home, criticism of the Pennsylvania health department's guidance issued to nursing homes was explicitly stated in a letter addressed to Wolf written by Republican leaders such as Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The letter opens by stating: "The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the elderly, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. We write seeking information, at a granular level, about the science and information used to inform your decision to mandate nursing homes and long-term care facilities admit untested and contagious COVID-19 patients from hospitals. This decision likely contributed to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania."

After the letter was issued, Levine refuted the assertions made by Republican leaders in a press conference by saying, "There is no evidence that that policy itself contributed to that many deaths," WITF.org reported.

Newsweek reached out to Greene for comment.

The Ruling

False.

There is no evidence to support Greene's claim that Levine placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing home facilities, thus likely contributing "to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania."

It is true that coronavirus nursing home-associated deaths have risen in the state.

However, although Levine serves as the Pennsylvania secretary of health and was active in that position when the state's health department issued the guidance to nursing home facilities saying they can accept patients from hospitals and patients who formerly had COVID-19, that does not prove she placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing homes or contributed to thousands of elderly deaths in the state.

Rachel Levine Press Conference
Dr. Rachel Levine providing a statewide coronavirus update on May 12, 2020. Pennsylvania Department of Health