U.S. representatives call for answers amid flawed rollout of nursing home COVID-19 data

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of 15 Democratic U.S. Representatives has called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to answer for what they describe as an incomplete, delayed and flawed collection of nursing home COVID-19 data, according to a July 7 letter sent to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

In early June, CMS began releasing weekly batches of data detailing the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and equipment shortages at every nursing home in the country. The information is meant to inform the public and help lawmakers tamp down infection and death rates in nursing facilities.

One lawmaker who signed the letter, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat, called CMS’ data collection effort “inept.”

“When you can’t find out what is happening in a nursing home and you have gaping holes in the data … it makes it unbearable to some families and impossible for those of us in government to have planning and effective remedies for the problems that exist,” Doggett said. “It has been totally botched and reflects a great deal of indifference about this crisis and the impact on nursing homes, their residents and the families that are tied to those residents.”

The data was initially released June 4, after weeks of delays. Hundreds of facilities have yet to report information, according to the congressional letter.

In addition, “thousands of infection surveys remain hidden from the public,” the representatives stated.

The group of lawmakers requested CMS provide information on enforcement and a detailed breakdown showing all information missing for each facility in the country. The group also asked for an explanation of CMS’ quality control methods.

KXAN previously reported Texas leads the country in the number of nursing homes that have failed to submit data.

According to the letter, CMS’ infection control surveys were also “unrealistically glowing,” citing only “3% of facilities with deficiencies and only two instances of any harm out of over 5,700 surveys.”

“Truly implausible results after years of concerning reports, more than 50,000 resident deaths from COVID-19, and numerous requests from facilities for federal support in obtaining personal protective equipment,” according to the letter.

In response to the congressional letter and questions from KXAN, a CMS spokesperson said 98% of the country’s 15,400 Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes had submitted required data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CMS has also started enforcement actions against nursing homes that failed to submit data, including civil fines, but those actions are still pending, according to the spokesperson.

Texas surge

Texas has seen more than 1,000 nursing home resident deaths due to COVID-19 and confirmed cases in more than 62% of the state’s facilities.

KXAN has independently confirmed two dozen Central Texas senior facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases. State and local health officials have refused to release data for individual facilities, saying they are prohibited by medical privacy laws.

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