By Carol Vaughn —
A new requirement to submit data on COVID-19 cases in nursing homes has resulted in publication of weekly numbers by the federal agency charged with oversight of nursing homes.
Still, the numbers for Eastern Shore facilities so far don’t appear to match up with Virginia Department of Health statistics.
That is true of other localities as well, according to media reports.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced June 4 it was posting the first set of COVID-19 nursing home data, after announcing in April a requirement for nursing homes to inform residents and their families of COVID-19 cases in their facilities and to report cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CMS is responsible for ensuring health and safety of nursing home residents by enforcing standards.
The website for nursing home data is https://data.cms.gov/stories/s/COVID-19-Nursing-Home-Data/bkwz-xpvg/
It has been difficult to get information about COVID-19 outbreaks in Virginia nursing homes because of a state law that defines corporations as people, giving facilities a right to privacy regarding health information.
That has left it up to the facilities themselves whether to voluntarily share information about outbreaks with the public.
The CMS database sheds some light on how COVID-19 is affecting nursing homes.
Shore Health and Rehab Center in Parksley reported the week of May 31 it had one confirmed COVID-19 case; four total suspected cases; no COVID-19 deaths; and 102 out of 136 available beds occupied, according to the database.
Additionally, the facility reported nine confirmed COVID-19 cases and six suspected cases among staff as of May 31.
Heritage Hall in Nassawadox reported for the week of May 24 one resident was admitted with COVID-19 that week; six residents were suspected to have COVID-19; zero deaths; no confirmed or suspected cases among staff; and 93 of 143 beds occupied, according to the database.
Those figures were low in contrast to reports of an earlier, large outbreak there.
Facilities that have submitted erroneous data have an “N” displayed in a column titled “Passed Quality Assurance Check,” which the database showed for Heritage Hall as of June 9.
A health department official told county officials in May around 94 of 220 people the National Guard tested at Heritage Hall in late April were positive for the virus.
A spokesperson for the facility said in a May 5 email the test results included 46 employees and 43 residents who tested positive.
No data from Commonwealth Senior Living at the Eastern Shore in Onancock was found in the database as of June 9.
There were no cases there as of early May, Kristie Annis, executive director, said then.
Health department statistics show the Eastern Shore has had outbreaks in four long-term care facilities, which includes group homes and other settings in addition to nursing homes.
The Shore also has had six outbreaks in congregate settings, which includes the poultry plants or other workplaces, among other settings. An outbreak is defined as two or more linked cases outside a household setting.
As of June 11, 821 cases on the Shore, and 70 among healthcare workers, were associated with outbreaks.
The number of hospitalizations and deaths due to outbreaks in a locality is not reported on the state health department website.
Accomack County has had 984 cases, 55 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths to date, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Northampton County has had 259 cases, 34 hospitalizations, and 27 deaths.
Health department data sorted by ZIP code shows Nassawadox, the home of Heritage Hall, with 79 COVID-19 cases and 273 people tested.
Parksley, where Shore Health and Rehabilitation is located, has had 174 cases and 722 people tested.
Onancock, where Commonwealth Senior Living is located, has had 84 cases and 254 tested.
The figures include cases and test numbers from among all residents of the ZIP code.
The preliminary data released by CMS has “several limitations,” according to a note on the website.
For one thing, facilities can opt whether or not to report cumulative data back to January 1, meaning some will report higher total numbers of cases and deaths than others in the beginning.
Testing availability also could impact the number of confirmed cases a facility reports.
Additionally, “as with any new reporting program, some facilities will struggle with their first submissions, and therefore, some of the data from their early submissions may be inaccurate,” the note said. That could be corrected in subsequent weeks.
The data shows that as of May 31 about 13,600 nursing homes, or around 88%, had reported the required information.
Facilities around the United States reported more than 95,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 32,000 deaths, according to a press release.
The agency plans to update the data weekly.