Rachel Levine, HHS assistant secretary nominee, quizzed on missing Pa. nursing home data

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Former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine faced tough questioning Thursday during a Senate confirmation hearing regarding reported discrepancies in state records on COVID-related nursing home deaths.

Levine was nominated by President Biden to serve as assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"You assured me that Pennsylvania did not do what New York did, that it accurately reported," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said to LevineThursday. "However, I am told that in September of 2020, Spotlight PA reported issues with inadequate disclosure of cases and deaths in nursing homes," she continued, pointing to facilities that were found to have reported "no data" while the facilities claimed they had.

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Levine said these discrepancies could be explained because of "lag time" between when a death was reported to when it hit Pennsylvania’s electronic death reporting system (EDRS).

But the Keystone state publication -- Spotlight PA -- alleged the "lag time" explanation given by Levine Thursday, did not actually answer for the discrepancies they found.

The problem originated after nursing homes were "self-reporting" their coronavirus cases and deaths to the state health department through separate online portals, not through the state’s EDRS, as Levine alleged Thursday.

The lack of uniform reporting allegedly led to irregularities and incomplete records.

In an attempt to remedy the reporting anomalies, Pennsylvania’s health department informed nursing home administrators in a June 18 letter that they could face fines or prison time if they did not comply with the state’s reporting requirements.

But Spotlight PA found that though facilities claimed they were submitting their coronavirus nursing home data through the state system, irregularities persisted.

In addition, the facilities were either frustrated by the fact that their public-facing data were chock-full of errors, or could not explain why their data were excluded from the state’s weekly reports entirely.

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Investigative reporting by the outlet found that the errors continue to plague the state’s EDRS. On Feb. 17, 139 facilities recorded "no data," followed by missing data for 145 facilities in the week following, on Feb. 23.

Fox News could not immediately reach the state’s Department of Health for comment but found that more than half of all deaths reported in Pennsylvania came from COVID-19 cases found in nursing homes.

Pennsylvania has reported nearly 923,000 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic started, with close to 24,000 deaths –12,355 of which have been reported by nursing homes.

Caitlin McFall Fox News