Wisconsin DHS Reclassifies 1,000 COVID-19 deaths
During the last two weeks, Wisconsin health officials have reclassified almost 1,000 COVID-19 deaths. These fatalities, previously recorded as occurring in an unknown housing setting, have now been correctly adjusted as deaths that occurred in long-term care facilities.
What this reclassification of data means is that the state now reports that 45 percent of all Wisconsin deaths from COVID-19 happened in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Previously, those numbers were reported as being between 26 percent and 30 percent of the state’s total virus fatalities.
Did the Evers Administration Undercount COVID-19 Fatalities in Nursing Homes?
In an article reported by the Washington Examiner, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin said, “the Evers administration severely undercounted COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, making their response to COVID-19 appear much better than it was.”
However, Gov. Tony Evers’s administration reported that reclassifying data reports is part of the standard process for ensuring state health data for recording coronavirus deaths is properly updated and classified.
How Were Deaths Previously Classified as Unknown Tied to Nursing Homes?
The Department of Health Services (DHS) said their agency took extra measures to improve the transparency in an effort to provide greater clarity about where COVID-19 deaths occurred in the state. This step involved pulling the address list of long-term care facilities from federal regulators and matching them against addresses given for patient deaths recorded as unknowns for group housing.
Nursing homes in Wisconsin are required by law to provide federal regulators with the number of residents who died from COVID-19. State-regulated assisted living facilities, however, are not required to report this information.
According to the DHS, data initially received from various local health departments may sometimes be incomplete, so it is not uncommon to update data after receiving more details at a later time.
Additionally, the DHS made of point of clarifying that this reclassification does not alter the number of deaths overall from the virus. It only changes statistics as to where these deaths occurred.
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Wisconsin DHS’ Data Management
Republican State Senator, Alberta Darling, requested that the Legislative Audit Committee launch an investigation into how Wisconsin DHS manages state data.
David Grabowski, a Harvard Medical School professor of healthcare policy who also specializes in long-term care told the Journal Sentinel, “This is not something you should have to go back and correct after the fact.”
According to Grabowski some “40-other states” seem to be able to record their data in real time.
Other lawmakers also questioned why long-term care facilities suffered far more fatalities than originally reported.
Rep. Mike Gallagher – representing Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District, told the Washington Examiner after receiving the updated report, “we need to do everything we can to protect this community as soon as possible.”
Executive Director of the Wisconsin GOP, Mark Jefferson, told the Washington Examiner that learning about these newly classified and reported nursing home deaths “raises serious concerns about what else [Evers’s] administration has been hiding during the pandemic.”
In a readout, Jefferson wrote, “It appears this time that Gov. Tony Evers’ continued resistance to transparency may have hampered the state’s ability to ensure that some of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable were protected.”
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