Nursing home testing carries $22 million price tag

In this April 17 photo, a vial used to collect a nose swab sample is put into a collection bag as members of a team of University of Washington medical providers conduct coronavirus testing at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. According to a nursing home trade group, it would cost $22 million to test every resident and staff member in Pennsylvania’s 695 nursing homes.

HARRISBURG — A trade group representing nursing homes on Thursday blasted the state listing of coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities released Tuesday for including “inconsistent and inaccurate” data.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday that the department will correct the listing. By Thursday afternoon, it remained on the state website unchanged.

Levine said the report couldn’t be changed on Wednesday because of a computer problem.

“Any errors will be corrected,” she said.

It wasn’t clear on Thursday why the listing hadn’t been updated.

Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the Department of Health said the agency was “actively working to update” the list with corrections.

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said that nursing home operators have been working to foster trust with families and loved ones while visits in facilities have been curtailed. With the release of the inaccurate data, “that trust was broken,” he said. “The Department’s posting of this inaccurate data has created panic and anger amongst family members, distrust amongst staff and frustration for providers.”

Shamberg said the nursing home industry supported the state’s move to provide transparency about where coronavirus outbreaks have occurred, but added that the agency has an obligation to ensure that the information it releases is accurate.

Scrutiny of the state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreaks in long-term care facilities has intensified as the number of deaths in nursing homes and similar facilities has increased. About 67 percent of the 4,869 deaths blamed on coronavirus in Pennsylvania have involved residents of long-term care facilities.

The state’s list shows that 48 facilities had 20 or more deaths and 31 had 100 or more residents with coronavirus.

But Shamberg said that his association began hearing complaints about the accuracy of the nursing home data within minutes of its release.

Among those who disputed the data was Mark Monahan, executive director of Nursing and Rehabilitation at the Mansion in Sunbury. The state’s list indicated that the Mansion had a resident who’d tested positive for coronavirus, but Monahan said the facility hasn’t had any residents with COVID-19.

The state had been releasing aggregated data about coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes, but until Tuesday, the Department of Health had refused to specify exactly which facilities were experiencing outbreaks. Health Department officials had said they were weighing the public’s right to know against patient privacy and the dictates of state law.

The list released on Tuesday included information on 557 long-term care facilities.

The data provided the number of cases, number of employee cases and number of deaths that have occurred at each facility.

“There is no question, in Pennsylvania and all across the world, long-term care facilities have been places where this virus has wreaked absolute havoc. And we keep trying to figure out what we can do better as we move along in this pandemic,” Wolf said at a video news conference on Tuesday. “I think in hindsight there are a lot of things that maybe we’ll learn, and I hope we do, that we can do better.”

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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