Home > Uncategorized > EOHHS emails show apparent consensus on reducing public reporting of COVID-19 data in congregate care facilities

EOHHS emails show apparent consensus on reducing public reporting of COVID-19 data in congregate care facilities

Internal emails in June among the Baker administration’s top human services administrators reveal an apparent consensus to reduce public reporting of COVID-19 test results in congregate care facilities.

That consensus appears to have led to decisions to stop publicly reporting cumulative COVID testing data and not to report test data on provider staff working in group homes for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For reasons that are unclear to us, the administration publicly reports only the number of staff testing positive in state-run group homes.

In one email, a senior manager at MassHealth appears to have wanted to “sunset” congregate care reporting in general. That was apparently just as Governor Baker was signing legislation into law that would increase reporting requirements about COVID-19 infection rates in congregate care facilities.

COFAR received a total of eight emails last week in response to a Public Records Request filed with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) on June 25. Our request was for records bearing on an apparent decision to change the reporting in EOHHS’s online Weekly State Facility Reports from cumulative or historic COVID data to “current cases.”

As a result of that change, only a handful of DDS clients are now reported as being COVID-19 “positive” in each EOHHS weekly report, and the number of deaths is only listed for patients who died in the previous seven days. This version of the EOHHS weekly report from May listed cumulative testing data and a cumulative total of deaths.

The current EOHHS weekly reports do list numbers of clients who have “recovered” from COVID-19, but the notes to the reports indicate that this is not cumulative data. As noted below, it does not appear to be possible to compare the public EOHHS data with data provided to us directly by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in response to email queries.

The June EOHHS email discussion is concerning to us because it appears indicative of an overall lack of transparency by the administration in its response to the pandemic, particularly with respect to DDS clients.

On August 3, I emailed Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, inviting her to respond to a series of questions we have about the emails.  Among our questions is why, in the midst of a pandemic, would administrators at EOHHS be discussing and agreeing on ways to reduce reporting about the pandemic to the public?

Sudders has not responded to my email.

The eight emails we received covered four-day period from June 10 through 13. Sudders herself was not included in the email thread, which included close to a dozen officials in some cases.

The people on the thread include Monica Sawhney, who is MassHealth chief of staff, and Daniel Tsai, who is assistant secretary for MassHealth. Others include Catherine Mick, EOHHS undersecretary for human services, Lauren Peters, undersecretary for health policy, and Alda Rego, assistant secretary for administration and finance.

All of the EOHHS emails concern what Sawhney described as a “proposal for our public data reporting going forward.” She didn’t specify on the thread that the data reporting specifically referred to COVID information. However, we are assuming that’s what this was all about because the emails were provided to us in response to our request for internal documents concerning COVID reporting.

The emails include the following:

  • A June 11 email in which Sawhney wrote the following to nearly a dozen EOHHS officials:

Thanks all for the feedback. Below is an updated list with a couple of open questions. I’m also attaching here a proposal for the dashboards starting next week. You’ll see we are moving away from cumulative data and toward snapshot/weekly. This is how we are already reporting the inpatient psych data. Please review and provide any feedback by tomorrow. We can also discuss on our call tonight. Thanks! (my emphasis)

The dashboard proposal was not included in the documents provided to us by EOHHS. There is no explanation given in the above email or any of the other emails as to why EOHHS was moving away from cumulative data.

  • An email dated June 13 in which Sawhney stated that all EOHHS agencies “should continue to collect vendor staff and client-level data (outside of facilities/congregate care) internally, but do not need to report it to EOHHS” (emphasis in the original)

Both the recommendation to stop reporting cumulative data and to exempt test results of vendor staff from public disclosure appear to have been adopted.

That changeover in reporting apparently occurred sometime in late June, apparently just about the time the emails referred to above were being sent.

  • An email, dated June 10, in which Sawhney stated:

I would like to clear up for each agency what data we want them to continue to report to us, what they should be collecting internally but do not need to report up, and which reports they can stop completing altogether. (my emphasis)

  • A June 10 email in response to Sawhney in which Martha Farlow, ACO Policy and Contracts senior manager at MassHealth, wrote:

I have also gotten questions about whether agencies need to continue the “congregate care” report (I believe the one Joan Clowes was compiling). I think that could be sunsetted.

As noted, Governor Baker signed legislation into law on June 8 that would add requirements for reporting COVID data in congregate care facilities, although DDS group homes are not included in those requirements.

  • A June 11 email In response to Farlow’s email, in which Catherine Mick, EOHHS undersecretary for human services, wrote:

In lieu of the congregate care reporting, could we ask each agency to just submit agenda topics for cross discussion?

  • A June 11 email, in response to Mick, in which Sawhney stated:

I think as long as they’re still reporting the qualitative information, they don’t need to report the congregate care quantitative information through this report any more.

  • The same June 13 email in which Sawhney stated that, “Agencies do not submit daily tracker to EOHHS going forward.” (emphasis in the original).

In my query on August 3 to Sudders, I also asked what the purpose is of moving away from reporting cumulative data and why the administration would not continue to present cumulative data in addition to current data.

How, I also asked, can epidemiologists draw conclusions about the progress of the state’s response to the pandemic without cumulative data?

Also, why would reporting on congregate care data need to be eliminated or sunsetted? And why is data on staff working in corporate provider or vendor-run group homes not reported?

DDS data is different from EOHHS State Facility Weekly Reports

As a result of reporting changes made and differing reporting policies within the administration, the data we have gotten as a result of direct requests to DDS is different and, in many cases, not comparable to the data provided in the EOHHS Weekly State Facility Reports.

For instance, the latest EOHHS Weekly State Facility Report, as of July 28, lists a total of 10 “current (COVID-19) positive client cases” in all DDS-funded group homes, and a total of 1,355 “current clients recovered.” It also lists zero deaths in the past seven days.

However, data provided by DDS as of the same date, July 28, lists a cumulative total of 1,606 group home residents as having tested positive for COVID-19. There is no clear way to compare the cumulative total of the 1,606 positive-testing clients in the DDS data with the 1,355 “recovered” and 10 currently positive clients in the EOHHS data.

Also, the DDS data notes that a cumulative total of 1,864 state and provider staff have tested positive in DDS-funded group homes as of July 28, and that there have been a total of 104 COVID-related deaths in the DDS system.

The EOHHS data, as noted, does not report the cumulative total of deaths or the number of positive-testing staff in provider-run DDS group homes. The July 28 EOHHS Weekly State Facility Report states only that less than five staff are currently positive in state-run group homes.

We suggest that people to call their legislators and urge them to push for better public reporting of COVID-related data in the DDS system. You can refer to our blog post here at cofarblog.com. You can find your local legislators at this site.

For too long, DDS clients have been treated as an afterthought in the administration’s response to the COVID pandemic.

 

  1. Joan D'Arcy Sheridan
    August 7, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    I am just glad you are watching out for our loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. itanzman
    August 10, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I wonder if you could get a hold of the emails related to staff testing between the EOHHS/DDS and ADDP /ARC during the time of the pandemic. I’ll bet those could be revealing. Thank you for keeping on top of this.

    Like

    • August 10, 2020 at 9:27 am

      Thanks, Irene. We asked in May for emails and other records from those agencies relating to mandatory testing of staff, and to date have received nothing. In mid-July, we filed an appeal for the records with the state Public Records Supervisor; and on July 24, the Supervisor ordered EOHHS to clarify whether they have the records we are seeking. We’re waiting for that clarification, and will go back to the Public Records Supervisor if we don’t get it this week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • itanzman
        August 16, 2020 at 2:57 pm

        Excellent. So you already did it. Those emails could be quite revealing.

        Like

  3. Anonymous
    • Anonymous
      August 12, 2020 at 6:13 pm

      Not sure what the link above implies. Yes, there are occasional errors in the testing process. In this case, they found the problem, which had caused false positives, and fixed it. Does that negate the testing process in general?

      Like

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