Families say they’re frustrated with incomplete nursing home COVID-19 data

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For weeks, Dawn Maracle’s stepdad was in and out of the ICU, fighting for his life after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“We’ve had hopeful moments — and then absolutely dire moments when we thought we’d be hearing that he had passed away,” she told KXAN in mid-May.

She explained he was rushed there from his home at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for different health complications, but when he arrived, she asked that he be tested for COVID-19.

Now, he’s recovered and is expected to be discharged this weekend, so Maracle’s family is tasked with finding him a new place to live. She’s too worried to let him move back into the nursing home where he lived — where she believes he caught the virus.

“Now I’m rethinking that, because I don’t want him to go back into that environment,” she explained.

Dawn Maracle shared this photo of her family on a video call with her stepdad (top right) while he was battling the coronavirus in the hospital. She said it is a “miracle” he has now recovered. (Photo provided by: Dawn Maracle)

She had hoped to utilize newly released data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to evaluate homes, but now has concerns.

MORE: Feds nationwide nursing home data expansive but incomplete

The data released Thursday includes more than two dozen fields of information on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes, as well as information on protective equipment and supplies.

But many nursing facilities have not provided federal health authorities with required information, and some of the federal data does not square with information already relayed by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Maracle said some homes she’s spoken with claim to be COVID-19-free while the federal data shows suspected cases. Meanwhile, she claims other homes have given her estimates that seem far higher than what’s reported in the data.

CMS officials said they expect facilities to accurate report data, and could face penalties for not doing so. They also acknowledged there would be discrepancies in state and federal data, as they collected data directly from the homes and only started collecting data as of May 17, instead of retroactively. The data is also updated weekly.

Yet KXAN Investigators found nearly 200 Texas facilities with no information reported as of May 31.

According to a CMS memo regarding the new reporting requirements, facilities got a two-week grace period to begin reporting cases.

After May 31, facilities were told they’d receive a warning letter.

By June 7, the fourth week of required reporting, CMS will impose $1,000 penalty for one day — for the failure to report that week. After that, the fines go up even more for facilities who fail to report. For more details, click here.

CMS also recently announced increased penalties for homes who violate infection control and prevention guidelines.

MORE:Despite employing infection prevention experts, virus still hit nursing homes

Maracle said she’s left wondering when a more complete picture will be available to the public and if the enforcement or fines will help with transparency.

“It truly is important information, because it tells a story to people like myself about the quality of a particular place and if we choose to deal with that,” she said. “It takes away our choice.”

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