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Federal officials say any errors in their reporting of nursing home staff deaths due to COVID-19 are attributable to the homes themselves.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services database of COVID-19 infections, vaccines and deaths indicates that 36 workers at 22 Iowa care facilities have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic to date.

That information, which is updated weekly, is posted to CMS’ website and is routinely republished by AARP, the news media and others.

While no questions have been raised over the CMS data on vaccines, infections and resident deaths, some Iowa nursing home operators have said the data on staff deaths is inaccurate.

For example, CMS reports that the Iowa home with the highest number of staff deaths is Azria Health Winterset in Madison County, where seven workers have allegedly died of COVID-19. The Azria Health Rose Vista facility in Harrison County, places second, with four reported staff deaths. The Azria Health facility in Des Moines County, called Prairie Ridge, has one reported employee death, according to CMS.

But Carrie Ramaekers, chief operating officer at Azria Health, says all of those numbers are inaccurate and the company has not had any staff deaths attributable to COVID-19.

A CMS spokesman, speaking to the Iowa Capital Dispatch on the condition that he not be named, said all nursing homes submit COVID-19 data each week to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network. Once submitted, the CDC transmits the information to CMS for public dissemination.

CMS “reports whatever the facilities have reported in NHSN,” the spokesman said, adding the facilities are “ultimately responsible for ensuring accurate submissions” and can correct any erroneous data once it’s published.

The database is the nation’s most widely used health care-associated infection tracking system, the spokesman said.

“The vast majority of nursing homes have entered data correctly, and the data posted provides an informative and actionable representation of how COVID-19 has impacted nursing homes across the US,” he said.

At the Touchstone Healthcare Community in Woodbury County, where CMS reports that three workers at the home have died of the virus, administrator Greg Gregerson says there have been zero staff deaths.

At one point, the CMS database indicated two staff deaths at the Monticello Nursing and Rehab Center in Jones County, but Administrator Laurissa Martin says there have been no staff deaths at the facility.

Throughout the pandemic, the Iowa Department of Public Health has refused to disclose even statewide figures on staff deaths in nursing homes. It has done so while citing unspecified “privacy” concerns, even while CMS has published staff and resident death counts on a facility-specific basis.

On its website, CMS says the staff-death data reflects “staff and facility personnel with suspected or laboratory positive COVID-19 who died since Jan. 1, 2020.” The agency says that, nationally, close to 2,300 nursing home workers have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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