Lack of data hinders COVID response in state veterans’ homes
(Massachusetts National Guard photo by Army Spc. Samuel D. Keenan)

Lack of data hinders COVID response in state veterans’ homes

The lack of comprehensive information about COVID-19 infections in state veterans’ homes and other long-term care facilities is making it more difficult to address the outbreak and creating stress for the families of nursing home residents.

As of Thursday, more than 1 million people in the United States were known to have been infected with coronavirus and nearly 62,000 COVID-related deaths have been reported, according to The Washington Post. The actual number of infections and deaths is likely far higher, health experts say. In addition, the number of nursing homes reporting COVID-19 infections has doubled in the last week, the Post reported.

Somewhere between a quarter and half of the COVID deaths in the United States have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities run by private companies, states and the federal government, according to Politico. And the number of deaths at state veterans’ homes in Massachusetts and Long Island continues to make headlines. But it’s difficult to gauge how well veterans homes and other long-term care facilities are dealing with the infections because comprehensive data is not available.

“At the federal level, there’s no place you can go to get that information,” says Robyn Grant of The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care. News media outlets are reporting numbers of infections and deaths on a facility-by-facility basis when they are able to obtain the information.

Only nine states report completely comprehensive data, including the number of COVID cases and deaths at each facility. And while another 31 states report some information, there is great variation in the type of coronavirus data being reported, the way each state defines long-term care facilities, and how often it updates the information, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That makes meaningful response difficult. “How can you know where the resources and help are needed if you don’t know where the hot spots are?” Grant says.

The lack of information also makes caregiving decisions more difficult for families.

“Families have no idea what’s going on in the places (nursing homes) their loved ones are,” Grant says. Likewise, families who need to find a care facility for a loved one aren’t able to get a clear picture of whether a particular nursing home is a safe choice.

The federal Center for Medicare Care & Medicaid Services (CMS) is preparing to address the information gap. On April 19, CMS announced it is going to require nursing homes and other health care facilities to report COVID-19 infections to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, CMS announced plans to require nursing homes to notify residents and their families when there are new COVID-19 cases in their facilities. It’s not clear when this new requirement will be in place. “I’m hoping that will be the case really soon,” Grant says.