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

PITTSBURGH — Following a Channel 11 investigation, families with loved ones in nursing homes, state lawmakers and even some of the facilities themselves are calling for more accountability on public data posted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

11 Investigates discovered 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. Watch the original report here.

All nursing homes are supposed to report their COVID case count and deaths to the state, every day; but over the past year, a surprising number show up as reporting “no data” at all. The number of facilities shown as reporting no data peaked in January with more than 400 showing no data. That’s more than half of the state’s nearly 700 facilities.

Calls for accountability

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff R-171st District, says the public deserves to know this information and is calling on the state to fix it, especially because missing data has been a problem for more than a year now.

“I can understand not having that data at the beginning of this pandemic, but we’re 15 months out,” Benninghoff said. “At the end of the day, we owe it to our public, we owe it to the patients, we owe it to the families to have this available so we can make smart decisions, and be able to delegate resources.”

Lynn Campbell lost her twin sister, Laura Jeffries, to COVID-19 in December. Laura was a resident at UPMC Seneca Place, which also is shown as reporting “no data” at times. Lynn says she doesn’t want her sister’s death to be forgotten and is calling for accountability for families who have loved ones in nursing homes.

“The public has a right to know everything about COVID - everything, and especially if they want to put a family member in a home,” Campbell said.

Nursing Homes: “We are reporting!”

Several nursing homes contacted by 11 Investigates insist they are inputting their data, but the state somehow is not including it.

Quality Life Services (QLS) has 10 facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Several of its facilities show as reporting no data, but company executives were surprised to hear that when contacted by 11 Investigates.

“We are very, very transparent,” said Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, Quality Life’s Quality Assurance Officer. “It’s frustrating, but I think it’s also unfair to consumer and to providers that are relying on this data to be accurate.”

The administrator of Quality Life Services’ Henry Clay facility in Fayette County, Paul Nicholas, sat down with 11 Investigates to show how he inputs his data every day in the Survey-1-2-3 computer program the state provides.

Nicholas was named the Pennsylvania Healthcare Association’s Nursing Home Administrator of the year and says he is committed to transparency. He says he was surprised to hear his facility shows up as reporting “no data.”

“Very shocked and disappointed for the amount of time I’ve put in to make sure I reported on a daily basis,” he said.

He says he inputs the data himself, every day.

“It’s every single day since March. This has been something, seven days a week, 365 (days a year) that’s part of your life you have to do,” Nicholas said.

11 investigates contacted two dozen of the nursing homes here in Southwestern Pennsylvania shown as not reporting their COVID numbers in the latest data.

Many facilities echoed QLS saying they have been reporting their numbers, too, and didn’t realize the state wasn’t getting them.

A few of the responses included:

  • CONCORDIA AT REBECCA RESIDENCE - “We definitely report all data. I don’t know why it wouldn’t show up.”
  • ST. JOHN SPECIALTY CARE - “We are submitting. We don’t want to get in trouble with the state for not reporting.
  • CENTER AT GREATER PITTSBURGH - “No issues with submitting data on our end.”

State response

In several emailed statements to 11 Investigates, the state has repeatedly blamed nursing homes for the problem, saying it was caused because “they reported either no data, or inaccurate or incomplete data.” In another email, a DOH spokesperson said they “have worked with facilities on the importance of data reporting.”

But Quality Life Services says no one from the state ever contacted them about not getting their data. Nicholas says he thought the state was getting it all this time, because every day when he submits his numbers, the computer program shows a checkmark and says the data was “successfully submitted.”

Some of the nursing homes reporting “no data” told 11 Investigates the state has worked with them to try and make sure they are submitting data properly. UPMC Seneca Place is among them. UPMC says their facilities have submitted data consistently, but “data discrepancies” have caused “no data” to appear for some facilities, and they “are working internally and with the Department of Health to address these discrepancies.”

The state says it is considering several changes to improve compliance by nursing homes, and has agreed to do an interview with 11 Investigates on Wednesday. An update will follow.