The government still doesn't know how many nursing homes have coronavirus outbreaks

Medical workers help a resident of St. Joseph's Senior Home in Woodbridge, N.J., board a bus on March 25, 2020, after a number of residents tested positive for the coronavirus.
The lag in data collection is just one of a number of bottlenecks in the effort to slow the virus' deadly spread in nursing homes across the U.S.
WASHINGTON — On April 19, Medicare Administrator Seema Verma took the podium at the White House's daily coronavirus briefing to announce that the Trump administration would begin tracking outbreaks and deaths at long-term care facilities nationwide — and publish the numbers for everyone to see.
The effort would begin within days, federal officials promised.
More than two weeks and 13,000 long-term care deaths later, the federal government still has not tallied the number of nursing homes that have had outbreaks nationwide or the number of residents who have died. And the data is still weeks away from being made public, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, the federal agency that oversees nursing homes.
The delay in data collection is one of a number of bottlenecks in the effort to slow the virus' deadly spread in nursing homes across the U.S., hampering officials' ability to target hot spots and send additional resources where they are needed, according to public health experts. The administration has also been slow to send supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to long-term care facilities, and it delayed a requirement that nursing homes report coronavirus outbreaks to family members. A requirement that families be notified of outbreaks was approved on April 19 but didn't go into effect until Friday.
Lori Spencer visits through the window and on the phone with her mother, Judie Shape, who tested positive for the coronavirus, at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., on March 17, 2020.
"We think there is huge under-identification of the virus in nursing homes, so until they start reporting and comprehensive testing, it's not going to work," said Charlene Harrington, a professor emerita of nursing at the University of California San Francisco. "I think the problem is CMS and the governors have not put the nursing homes at the top of the list — and I can't think of any group that is more vulnerable."
A spokesperson for CMS defended the agency's data collection efforts in a statement to NBC News.
"As nursing homes report this data to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], we will be taking swift action and publicly posting this information so all Americans have access to accurate and timely information on COVID-19 in nursing homes. This reporting requirement is the first action of its kind in the agency's history," the statement read. "The agency remains committed to greater transparency, and will never stop working to give patients, residents, and families the clearest and most accurate information possible."
The nursing home industry says knowing the scope of the problem and which facilities should get priority is crucial. The need for greater access to testing and protective equipment has become even more urgent as more states are beginning to ease restrictions and reopen, effectively leaving older Americans "to fend for themselves as the virus threatens to wipe out an entire generation," LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit long-term care facilities, said in a statement.
Source; NBC NEWS

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