Pennsylvania’s department of health has been under fire for missing data from weekly reports in COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes. Seems like they mirrored the same nursing home policies that democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used – which are also being called for a federal investigation. In the state of Pennsylvania, COVID-19 has caused more than 12,000 deaths in nursing, personal care, and assisted living homes.
Former health secretary Rachel Levine oversaw the nursing home reports in Pennsylvania and had assured the numbers were accurately reported, unlike New York, where Cuomo’s top aide revealed earlier this year that their administration underreported nursing home deaths in order to avoid scrutiny from the general public and former President Donald Trump. Levine is currently being confirmed for a post in the Biden Administration as assistant health secretary.
However, reports from a September 2020 log were inconsistent with death and case data for more than 100 of the state’s 693 nursing homes. This was initially questioned by U.S Sen. Susan Collins, in which Levine responded that the “slow uploads to the system” were lagging in the state’s electronic death reporting system. The response contradicted Spotlight PA’s findings which pointed to problems with different reporting systems and procedures.
When digging into earlier data from last May, reports were filled with numerous errors. An outbreak at the Lehigh County facility, where 80 residents had died, was one of the highest death tolls in a Pennsylvania nursing home and was not included in the reports until August.
Advocates for the nursing home residents have been insisting on seeing more of the data and activity surrounding the facilities and how the state was monitoring outbreaks. More than 100 of the state’s 693 nursing homes had deadly outbreaks and families found it impossible to monitor any COVID-19 hotspots due to the state’s lack of transparency.
139 facilities were reporting “no data” on Feb. 17 this year and just a few days later, on Feb. 23, the report reveals that data has been missing for 145 facilities. The data continues to be missing from weekly public reports by the state’s health department.
The state issued a new order regarding data on vaccination rates but has yet to answer the question of how many lives were impacted in the nearly 700 nursing homes by coronavirus. They issued the order without holding a press conference and having to answer questions about it, but the new acting state health secretary, Alison Beam, announced that the goal is to “survey” these nursing homes and manage the vaccine supply for all current and future residents and staff. They said they have planned to make weekly reports on COVID-19 cases and deaths, but that they don’t know when that will be.
The deaths in November nearly tripled in Pennsylvania nursing homes in just four months and it is impossible to know how deadly the outbreaks have been. “This is the worst public health crisis of our time, and it’s critical that we get all of this information as soon as possible. We need to shape our policy around this information,” said Diane Menio, executive director for the Center of Advocacy of the Rights & Interests of the Elderly (CARIE).
But like everything else, Democrats are brushing it off as usual. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by Emerald Robinson of Newsmax about the nursing home scandal that Levine is facing, noting that it is exactly the same as Cuomo’s. “Why does your administration feel that Rachel Levine should get a pass on this and get such a high official position at the Health and Human Services Department?” He asked.
She responded that she’d have to “look into more specifics on the details” but that it did not remotely sound similar to the scenario in New York. “But we’ll follow up with you if we have more to offer,” Psaki adds. As always, providing no answers.
I’m surprised she didn’t tell Robinson that she’ll “circle back.” Mind you, Dr. Levine’s own mother was taken out of a nursing home last May amid the state’s shutdown. That should tell you something.