Republicans demand answers to what caused delay in reporting COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities

NOW: Republicans demand answers to what caused delay in reporting COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Some Republicans are demanding answers as to why it took the state weeks to link nearly 1,000 COVID-19 deaths to long-term care facilities. 

The concerns were raised by Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) after the state reported 45% of all COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, when for weeks that percentage remained steady at 26%. 

This resulted in a shift of about 1,000 deaths being reported at these facilities, which group together nursing homes and assisted living centers. 

“A year into the pandemic and we have a huge discrepancy, when 40 other states have been able to report their data in real time,” said Testin. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

Without identifying the location of where COVID-19 deaths occurred, the state held them in an “unknown” category. Now, DHS officials have reclassified many of them as long-term care residents. 

State health officials said changing data is part of their process and health experts also believe a lack of resources plays a role, too. 

“That’s why we’ve had these delays, it’s because there’s simply not enough funds being put into the public health system pre-COVID, during COVID, and still today,” said Dr. Ajay Sethi, UW Health infectious diseases expert. 

While having accurate data throughout the pandemic is important, Sethi added it takes time. 

“The idea of having real time data for something like deaths, which takes time, even pre-COVID takes time to do a death investigation and to categorize that properly, you can’t expect that in 24 hours,” Sethi said.

While the updated data provides a more accurate outlook at the extent of the pandemic in long-term care facilities, it’s still unknown exactly how many died in these centers. 

More than 1,700 COVID-19 deaths remain in the unknown category and DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said she doesn’t anticipate they’ll be able to determine what type of group housing those deaths happened in. 

“If we keep being told to back the data, back the science and policies in response to COVID-19 and the data is bad, everything after that comes into question as well,” said Testin. 

Rick Abrams, president of the Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, defended the delays in COVID-19 data because he said most of those involved with long-term care facilities knew all along the toll the pandemic had in these settings.

“The situation in our long-term care facilities was a tragedy,” Abrams said. “All (DHS) really had was a street address, so it took a while to match that street address to the exact location.”

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