“These findings suggest that federal NHSN data understated total cases and deaths in nursing homes. Failure to account for this issue may lead to misleading conclusions about the role of different facility characteristics and state or federal policies in explaining COVID outbreaks,” the authors wrote.
For example, Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington, where the first COVID-19 outbreak in a nursing home occurred, reported zero cumulative COVID-19 cases in its first NHSN submission, even though the CDC had reported there were 81 cases and 25 deaths associated with the early outbreak.
Understanding accurate case and death counts will allow researchers to better analyze early COVID-19 response policies and how those differed at the state and federal level, said Shen, an economist at the not-for-profit Research Improving People’s Lives.
The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living said it has fully supported public reporting and transparency since the start of the pandemic.
“We encourage state and federal officials to improve our nation’s data collection and sharing efforts during public health emergencies, so that we streamline processes for providers and offer more comprehensive, real-time information that can help inform our response,” AHCA/NCAL said in a statement. “Extensive research shows that community spread has been the main driver of outbreaks in nursing homes, not quality ratings or ownership status. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials at every level took months to direct the needed support to long-term care facilities despite caring for our nation’s most vulnerable, which had devastating consequences.”