Zero deaths ... or 11? Discrepancies like that prompt calls to retract Pa. nursing home report

Terrie Morgan-Besecker
The (Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)
The health department on Tuesday released data on the number of coronavirus cases among residents, staff and number of deaths at 557 nursing homes and personal care homes statewide.

A trade association for long-term care facilities says it is considering filing a court injunction to force the state to retract a report on COVID-19 cases it contends is riddled with errors.

Zach Shamberg, executive director of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said the group notified the Department of Health that numerous facilities statewide said the reported figures were wrong. It demanded the report be taken down while the department and homes work to resolve the discrepancies, but Department of Health refused to do so.

“We want the data taken down immediately and be corrected,” he said.

The health department on Tuesday released data on the number of coronavirus cases among residents, staff and number of deaths at 557 nursing homes and personal care homes statewide. Several Lackawanna County homes, including Allied Services Skilled Nursing and Mountain View Care and Rehabilitation Center, were among facilities that had more than 100 positive cases, the report shows.

The report says Allied had 163 positive resident cases and 41 deaths, but the home contends it had 28 deaths, spokesman Jim Brogna said. It also believes it had fewer positive resident cases and more staff cases than the state lists.

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Genesis Health Care, which operates 32 nursing homes statewide, also contends the report is inaccurate. Michael Wylie, vice president of development and government relations for Genesis, said the report wrongly reports figures in 30 of its homes, including three in Lackawanna County and one in Luzerne County.

The report said Abington Manor had 11 positive residents, but it actually had none, Wylie said. The figures for the Carbondale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Linwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center also differ from the state report, but only by a few cases.

In Luzerne County, Genesis operates one home, Riverstreet Manor in Wilkes-Barre. The state report said it had 84 positive residents, whereas the home reports 79, Wylie said. The death count is also off, with the state reporting 20 deaths, while the home says there have been 16 deaths.

Wylie said Genesis routinely reports the number of cases to families of its residents. The discrepancies in the numbers have caused issues.

“Imagine if you have a family member at Abington Manor and were told there are zero cases. The state says there are 11 cases. How are you going to feel? You’re going to feel like you’ve been lied to,” Wylie said.

Shamberg said PHCA represents 350 nursing homes and personal care homes in the state. He said he got calls from at least two dozen homes complaining the state’s figures were wrong, but believes there are many more.

Gov. Tom Wolf stood by the state’s figures during a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve been going under the assumption that it is (accurate),” he said.

It’s not clear why the state’s figures don’t match those of the facilities. Shamberg said he spoke with the Health Department by phone Wednesday afternoon and officials could not explain how it collected the data.

“They told us it came from surveillance data. I don’t know what that means,” Shamberg said.

In an email, Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the health department, said the department tabulated the figures by comparing data on positive lab reports reported to the department, then matched them to addresses of long-term care facilities.

“We know this can lead to a few concerns, including where facilities have multiple licenses at one location,” Wardle said.

Wardle said the department resorted to that method after numerous homes failed to report case data to the department, which was due on Friday. Others provided data, but reporting errors that made the data unusable.

“We know there are some facilities that have had issues signing up, confusion reporting, etc. We are working to ensure everyone can report, and knows what to report and then will require it moving forward,” he said.

Shamberg said the problems are partly tied to the fact the department did not provide facilities the data tool needed to report the cases until 3 p.m. Friday. It mandated the figures be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

“They called it a public health emergency at 3 p.m. on a Friday, then they didn’t use that data,” Shamberg said. “Then to report blatantly incorrect information. ... It’s very disheartening.”

— The (Scranton) Times-Tribune staff writer Joseph Kohut contributed to this report.