Action taken to fix missing nursing home data on COVID following 11 Investigates report

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced changes Wednesday in how nursing homes are required to report their COVID-19 cases and deaths to the state.

The action comes following reports by 11 Investigates that exposed the state’s public data on nursing home cases and deaths is riddled with missing information, making it difficult to pinpoint which homes had significant outbreaks and where many deaths occurred during the pandemic.

>>>RELATED: Calls for state to fix missing information on nursing home COVID-19 cases, deaths

Nursing homes will now be required to report their numbers every week, instead of every day, to try to improve compliance.

“The daily reporting requirement could be somewhat of a burden,” Barry Ciccioccoppo, the Health Department’s Communications Director, told 11 Investigates. “Changing that to weekly reporting we do expect better compliance from the nursing homes going forward now.”

State Response

11 Investigates has been requesting an interview with the state for more than a week to discuss the issue of missing data. Finally, on Wednesday, DOH agreed to answer questions from 11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi.

Moreschi: “There are so many (nursing homes) showing no data, you have no idea where the outbreaks happened, where deaths occurred. Doesn’t the public have a right to know where those are happening?”

Ciccocioppo: “The public does have a right to know, and that’s why we are reporting the information.”

Moreschi: “So, what’s going on there, what’s the problem?”

Ciccocioppo: “What we’re finding from a lot of the facilities is errors in the data, so whenever we do find obvious errors we list that as NO DATA.”

11 Investigates has been tracking this problem for nearly a year and found the NO DATA issue has been going on the entire time without being fixed. The problem peaked in January of this year, with more than 400 of the state’s nearly 700 nursing homes showing NO DATA.

Moreschi: “You say you’re trying, but it’s been going on for so long why isn’t this a priority? Is it acceptable for this to have gone on for so long. Shouldn’t DOH do better here?

Ciccocioppo: Yes, we are continually working to do better.

The state says part of the problem could be confusion by nursing homes over how to input data, and also the burden of doing it every day.

Moreschi: Shouldn’t it be figured out by now? You say “could be.” Do you now know what the problem is?

Ciccocioppo: Well, that’s what we’re trying to work with the nursing homes to figure out what the problem is.

Changes being made

Now, after our reports highlighting the issue, the state is making a change this week to require nursing homes to report their numbers weekly, instead of daily.

“The daily reporting requirement could be somewhat of a burden,” Ciccocioppo said. “Changing that to weekly reporting, we do expect better compliance from the nursing homes going forward now.”

But many nursing home administrators, told 11 Investigates they were already complying with the order and were surprised when we told them their information was missing.

Paul Nicholas is administrator of Quality Life Services Henry Clay facility in Fayette County. Nicholas says no one from the state ever contacted him to say there was a problem.

“It’s disheartening that we put this much time into reporting our data and it isn’t being received.”

Nicholas says he adds the data himself, every day, and has for more than a year now.

“Once you hit submit - you get a confirmation,” Nicholas said demonstrating how he inputs data into the state’s computer-generated questionnaire.

When you hit submit, a green check mark pops up and the screen says, “successfully submitted.” In addition, it appears some of the information he adds does show up in the state’s public data, but not all of it.

11 Investigates asked the state if part of the problem could be their computer program not tabulating the data correctly.

Moreschi: “Is there some kind of a glitch? is it a computer program issue?”

Ciccocioppo: “That’s one of the problems we need to look into more deeply.”

The state acknowledges more investigation into the problem and follow-up with nursing homes will be required to fix this ongoing issue.

With changes being made to the reporting requirements for facilities, though, Ciccocioppo says they hope to see some improvement in the coming weeks.

“We definitely want to provide as much accurate and timely information as possible,” he said.

11 Investigates will continue to follow up to see if the problem gets better and will report back with any developments.