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What's going on with Georgia's COVID-19 nursing home death data?

Elderly man wearing mask in nursing home looks out a window

State lawmakers are requesting federal investigators to review the COVID-19 death counts at Georgia nursing homes following some big discrepancies between state and federal data.

According to an article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sen. Raphael Warnock and Rep. Hank Johnson, who both serve as members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and House Committee on Oversight and Reform, called for an examination of the data due to inconsistent reports, which they say don't paint an accurate picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on nursing homes in Georgia.

“Accurate and timely COVID-19 data is critical if we have any hope in combatting this pandemic and returning to normalcy,” Warnock and Johnson wrote in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. “It is also critical that Georgia families have an accurate picture of the effects of the pandemic on places where they entrust their loved ones.”

In the letter, Warnock and Johnson note the "wildly different" death counts reported by some nursing home facilities to state and federal agencies and called the discrepancies "deeply concerning."

Why is the data different?

The AJC report notes some of the discrepancies with the data are due to varying reporting periods with the state and federal government, but one of the reasons the numbers are different could be due to reporting requirements by the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH). That agency, which is responsible for issuing licenses and inspecting long-term care homes within the state, does not require senior care facilities to report to its tracking system, and some facilities don't.

Recent reports to the DCH indicate there have been about 3,500 COVID-19 deaths among Georgia nursing home residents, which represents approximately 21% of the state's total confirmed COVID deaths so far. That death toll also doesn't factor in the hundreds of virus-related deaths that took place in assisted living communities and large personal care homes, the AJC notes.

The most recent information available from federal reports says there have been 3,165 COVID-19 nursing home deaths in Georgia through March 21, but there are many other cases where the number of deaths was significantly lower in the state reports when compared to the federal reports — in some cases, the state numbers were only half of what was reported in the federal numbers.

While some differences can be chalked up to reporting errors and confusion over the reporting process, some nursing homes that had previously reported deaths were completely removed from the state report without explanation. And instead of reporting cumulative COVID-19 death totals, some nursing homes provided numbers that showed just decreases in the overall number of deaths.

As you can imagine, this incorrect data gave some families a false sense of security.

For instance, one Atlanta nursing home was thought to be a sanctuary during the pandemic due to numbers that suggested the facility was practically COVID-free — up until an outbreak that occurred in April was finally reported in July.

Following the death of at least 29 residents due to COVID-19 at that facility, with many occurring in July and August, the state handed down sanctions to the nursing home for not handling the outbreak appropriately.

Accuracy matters

Providing accurate data to government agencies was critical during the height of the pandemic because the state needed to know how it should respond.

Numbers that tell the whole story of what's happening/happened also help effect change as lawmakers draft policies and make decisions for the future.

Without having the correct data, it's hard to know the effectiveness of government response to outbreaks, hot spots, and flare-ups. This is especially true for places like nursing homes, where the virus has taken a deadly toll: nearly one-third of all COVID deaths in the U.S. have occurred in nursing facilities.

Find a nursing home abuse lawyer you can count on

Nursing homes have been a dangerous place to live during the pandemic, and many residents are already at higher risk of infection and death due to weakened immune systems and underlying health conditions.

The virus spread like wildfire throughout nursing homes in Georgia and across the country, but some infections might have been prevented had the nursing homes taken appropriate action to protect their residents. Underreporting, overreporting, or not reporting COVID data certainly didn't help that cause.

If a nursing home or assisted living facility failed to protect your loved one from the virus, you may be able to hold that facility accountable for their negligence.

At The Law Office of George S. Johnson, LLC, we launch comprehensive investigations into nursing homes to get answers and find out what really happened to the victim. Nursing home abuse and neglect come in many different forms, and attorney George S. Johnson knows what evidence to look for to deliver justice to your family.

Find out how a caring and compassionate nursing home abuse lawyer can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our office is located in Decatur and we serve clients in Atlanta and all of Georgia.

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