Major change for Pennsylvania nursing homes in how they report COVID-19 numbers

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania will no longer require nursing homes to report their COVID-19 case and death numbers directly to the state. On Friday, the Department of Health terminated the requirement and updated its website, directing citizens to the federal government’s COVID-19 nursing home website to find the data.

>> COVID-19 case numbers again rising at Beaver County nursing home, site of one of worst outbreaks <<

11 Investigates Exposed Missing Data

Back in May, 11 Investigates reported that the state’s public database on nursing home COVID numbers was riddled with missing information and inaccuracies, a problem that was ongoing throughout the pandemic.

Five days after our report, the department changed some confusing questions, and allowed nursing homes to report weekly instead of daily to try and fix the problem. Now, the state has decided to scrap its own data collection system and will rely on the federal government instead.

Loved ones frustrated

Loved ones of nursing home residents have been frustrated by the inaccurate data for months. Among them is Lynn Campbell, whose sister Laura died of COVID-19 in a nursing home back in December of 2020.

11 Investigates discovered Laura’s death was among thousands of COVID deaths not included in the state’s database after we started asking questions.

“If you don’t care about your data, then you don’t care about the people who make up that data including my sister,” Campbell said, as she called on the state to fix the problem.

The state had been requiring nursing homes to report their daily COVID case and death numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, and publicly shared the data weekly on its COVID-19 Dashboard for long-term care facilities.

The state blamed nursing homes for the problem, saying they reported information incorrectly, but 11 Investigates discovered that confusing questions and technical issues with the state’s reporting software, Survey 123, was part of the problem.

Many nursing homes were frustrated by issues with the state’s data collection process, saying they reported their COVID numbers to the state, but they did not appear in the database.

Quality Life Services, which owns 10 nursing homes in the region, did not realize some of its facilities were on the “no data” list.

QLS administrator Paul Nicholas told us he input the numbers every morning, and even got a confirmation from the state that it received the data.

He was surprised when Channel 11 showed him the state’s data listing his facility as submitting no data.

“Very shocked and disappointed, knowing the amount of time I put into reporting on a daily basis,” Nichols said.

Change eliminates double-reporting

Many nursing homes have complained for months that submitting the data to the state was redundant, because they already submit the same information to the federal government weekly.

Now, with this move, the state is eliminating the burden for nursing homes to report the same data twice.

“It’s a relief to not have to battle with that website anymore. However, it’s still frustrating it took so long. We made it very clear we were submitting the data, but we were not seeing that posted on the website,” said QLS co-owner Mary Susan Tack-Yurek.

Tack-Yurek says she is hopeful this will lead to fewer problems with missing and inaccurate COVID data in the future.

“I think the data will hopefully be more consistent, because we’re submitting it through one source, and the Department of Health is going to utilize the federal data that we’re already submitting,” Tack-Yurek said.

The Department of Health declined to do an interview with 11 Investigates about the change in reporting requirements, but provided a comment via email.

“By shifting to using the federal data, it can provide the public consistent data through an accessible dashboard; and avoiding duplicative efforts allows nursing home administrators the ability to (have) more time to focus on residents and report accurately week over week,” DOH Deputy press secretary Maggi Barton said.