Elwyn Harmony Hall is a Delaware County personal-care home for adults with a high need for mental-health care. It has room for 16 residents.
But if you believe the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Harmony Hall had 65 residents who tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s according to the long-sought data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state’s long-term-care facilities that officials released on Tuesday.
In reality, the total number of coronavirus cases across all of Elwyn’s behavioral health facilities is 18, said the nonprofit’s chief of staff, Rex Carney. The facilities have a total capacity of 184. “Clearly, the spreadsheet from the state is inaccurate,” he said.
Similar glitches were reported for other special-needs providers, such as Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health and Woods Services.
“We are working to correct these issues,” Health Department spokesperson Nate Wardle said in an email Wednesday, acknowledging that the numbers were incorrect. He attributed the inaccuracies to problems with how local information was entered into a state health database called the Enterprise Data Dissemination Informatics Exchange.
The data also showed a major problem with consistency, according to Wardle. “A significant amount of the reports were only the current counts, not cumulative counts,” he said. “We will be working to make the database usable as we receive the necessary information.”
As a result, it’s nearly impossible to make any comparisons between facilities.
Nursing home operators on Tuesday evening were puzzling over where the state obtained the numbers it made public, with some saying the figures did not match anything they had entered into any of the three or so databases they fill out for local, state, and federal authorities.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, using authority under Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency order, ordered nursing homes late last week to start filling out a new daily survey with coronavirus and other information for their facilities by the end of Saturday. That was supposed to be the basis of public reporting starting this week.
But the state used a different system, its existing electronic disease reporting system, to compile the data published Tuesday. That’s because “many facilities did not report as they were directed,” Wardle said. Those facilities are not being considered noncompliant yet.
“We need to assist some facilities in getting accounts so they can report and answer questions regarding reporting,” he said.
About 30 long-term-care facilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania were not listed in the published data. If they had no COVID-19 cases, the state did not include them. But some likely did not report as required.
“Moving forward, we will be mandating that facilities are reporting, and reporting the necessary information,” Wardle said when asked whether the state would alert the public to inaccuracies in the data.
Officials at the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a long-term care trade group in Harrisburg, on Wednesday asked the Health Department to take down what the group called “misreported data,” a spokesperson said.
“So far, the department has refused to take down the data and did not provide any timeline for when they believe they will be able to begin reporting the correct data.,” the spokesperson, Shayna Varner, said.
At least one correction, of sorts, has been made for a Philadelphia-area facility.
A Woods Services personal-care home where no more than seven people live supposedly had 103 cases among residents and 34 among staff. For privacy reasons, the updated spreadsheet provided no precise figures, but did say there were from one to four cases there. No one has died at the facility for people with severe brain injury or neurological disorders.
Although the inaccurate report is not expected to have long-term consequences for Woods, “our staff are mad and upset because they are working extremely hard around the clock to keep everybody safe,” said Cheryl M. Kauffman, the nonprofit’s vice president of communications and public relations.