Dr. Levine pressed about missing COVID-19 nursing home data in Pa.

PITTSBURGH — Federal lawmakers are demanding answers about missing data in Pennsylvania nursing home cases and deaths. Four members of Congress, including Butler-area Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA 16th District), are putting pressure on the state’s former health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, to get more information.

“It just does not make sense to me, I think Pennsylvania deserves to have those answers,” said Rep. Kelly. “We’re talking about life and death decisions on policy and we’re sitting back and saying well we just don’t have the data yet, so I’d say get up and get moving and get the data!”

Questions about the missing data were raised in February, during Levine’s confirmation hearing for a position as assistant health secretary in the Biden administration. At the time, she attributed the issue to a lag-time in processing the data.

“There is a lag-time from the time a tragic death would occur to the time it hits the electronic reporting system,” Levine said at the hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on February 25, 2021.

Unsatisfied with her response and calling it a “flimsy excuse,” Kelly and the other congressmen sent a letter to Levine this week asking for “additional information” regarding her comments.

The letter says in part:

“A year into the pandemic, we still do not have a full picture of the consequences of that policy due to incomplete data.”

“I think that’s a cop-out and that’s an easy excuse as to why we didn’t make the decisions that had to be made,” Kelly said in an interview with 11 Investigates.

Increased Scrutiny

The increased scrutiny comes in part because Pennsylvania had a policy similar to New York’s early in the pandemic, where nursing homes were required to accept COVID positive patients. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration are now under investigation for undercounting COVID nursing home deaths in that state.

11 Investigates has reported on issues with missing and incomplete COVID data in Pennsylvania nursing homes throughout the pandemic. Frequent checks of the state’s data on long term care facilities showed dozens of facilities reporting “no data” all the way back to May of last year, when the state first started posting the information. In the most recent report, 138 out of the state’s 693 facilities reported “no data.”

In August, 2020, 11 investigates exposed an outbreak of more than 50 cases and eight deaths at Monroeville Rehab and Wellness Center. Prior to our questions, the state was reporting zero cases at the facility. After our report, the state’s data was updated to include the accurate numbers.

At the time, the state Department of Health told 11 Investigates it was frustrated that facilities were not reporting the numbers as required by the state, saying in a statement, “We have seen all too frequently that facilities are not following the order, as required. We need long-term care facilities to provide this data to the department in a complete and accurate manner.”

Congressman Kelly says he believes the state should be more proactive in getting the data.

“I just find that a flimsy excuse not to do your job,” Kelly said.

During her confirmation hearing, Levine assured Senators that Pennsylvania did not undercount COVID deaths in nursing homes, like New York, but several of the GOP lawmakers are not satisfied.

Kelly says it is unclear if Pennsylvania reported all nursing home deaths due to the incomplete data.

“In Pennsylvania, we don’t really know, because the excuse is ‘We don’t have all the data yet,’ and that, to me, is just not acceptable,” Kelly said.

In the letter sent to Levine this week, she is asked to respond to the inquiry for more information by March 23, which is next week.