Gallagher Joins Delegation in Demanding Answers on Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities
March 22, 2021
GREEN BAY, WI – Reps. Mike Gallagher (WI-08), Scott Fitzgerald (WI-05), Glenn Grothman (WI-06), Bryan Steil (WI-01), and Tom Tiffany (WI-07) today sent a letter to Governor Tony Evers expressing their concern about Wisconsin’s data shortfalls in reporting long-term care COVID-19 deaths. In the letter, the Members request information on questions that remain unanswered surrounding the dire situation in Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities.
The letter follows a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that indicated the Evers Administration underreported deaths in Wisconsin's long-term care facilities. Rep. Gallagher also sent a letter to the Governor concerning the state's struggle to fully vaccinate seniors in assisted living facilities last week.
“Reports that the state of Wisconsin undercounted deaths in long-term care facilities are deeply concerning,” said Rep. Gallagher. “These individuals are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and our ability to protect them relies on accurate data. Governor Evers and his administration need to immediately address how and why this happened.”
“The recent reports uncovering extensive data shortfalls by the Evers Administration in classifying long-term care COVID-19 deaths are troubling. Our senior population has been among the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and families depend on State leaders to effectively target and distribute state and federal resources to those who need it most,” said Rep. Fitzgerald. “The Evers Administration’s failure to accurately classify these deaths may have impeded the State’s ability to target medical resources toward long-term care facilities and better inform Wisconsin’s vaccination program, possibly costing lives. The Evers Administration must answer for these shortfalls and provide more transparency.”
“Most states have been able to update their COVID-19 statistics in real-time, so it is worrying that Gov. Evers has had to reclassify over 1,000 deaths a year into the pandemic,” said Rep. Grothman. “If we would have known that nearly half of Wisconsin’s COVID-19 deaths have happened in long-term care facilities, resources could have been allocated differently to help citizens who are most vulnerable to the virus. Policymakers rely on accurate statistics when addressing the pandemic, so Gov. Evers owes transparency to Wisconsinites before he allocates further state and federal resources.”
“While national attention has focused on Governor Cuomo’s failure to protect seniors in New York, deaths in Wisconsin long-term care facilities have been underreported. Seniors, especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, are at high risk, yet the Evers administration has operated under inaccurate and misleading data for months. Health care decisions must be made based on sound science and accurate data. The Evers administration has operated under misleading data throughout the crisis resulting in a lack of attention to the people who need help the most. At the Union Grove Veterans Home, the Evers administration denied federal assistance before the first outbreak occurred. Ignoring a problem, refusing resources, and using misleading and inaccurate data only makes the problem worse. Governor Evers must provide transparency as to who in his administration was responsible for the inaccurate data,” said Rep. Steil.
“The new reports of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities marks a major shift in the ongoing conversation surrounding the treatment of our elderly residents throughout this pandemic. We are asking Gov. Evers for answers so that we can work with state health officials to understand the discrepancies in the numbers,” said Rep. Tiffany.
Dear Governor Evers,
We write to express our concerns regarding your Administration’s reclassification of 1,000 COVID-19 deaths. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that for months your Administration recorded that of the people who died from COVID-19, 26-30% were long-term care residents. Over the last two weeks, that rate significantly jumped to 45%.
The failure to accurately classify these deaths obscured the truly dire situation in Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities. Had this information been accurately reported in real time, medical personnel could have targeted the limited supply of medical resources available to them toward long-term care facilities. Additionally, the state could have used this information to better inform the vaccination program and begun vaccinating residents earlier, possibly saving lives. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the state has yet to provide information on 26% of COVID deaths, and as such, the true number of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities remains unknown.
Had Wisconsin Health Department Acting Secretary Andrea Palm, now President Biden’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, followed the example of other states in reporting updated, real-time data to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Wisconsin could have avoided the data shortfalls we see now.
In light of this new information, and your Administration’s delay in vaccinating residents in assisted living facilities, we are concerned that Wisconsin’s reputation as a leader in COVID19 vaccine distribution has been diminished.
As Wisconsin’s Federal representatives, we are also concerned that the state will not be able to provide accurate data regarding COVID-19 deaths to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Failing to provide accurate data obfuscates the true scope of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin. As our nation begins the process of returning to normal, it is more important than ever that states are reporting timely, accurate data to the Federal government.
In order to ensure additional Federal relief money coming to Wisconsin is properly allocated by your Administration, we ask that you provide us with the following information:
- Why are COVID-19 long-term care deaths not aggregated by nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and why was Wisconsin unable to collect this data in real time when other states were able to do so?
- Why did it take your Administration months to update this data and reclassify 1,000 COVID-19 deaths?
- When will information about the remaining 26% of deaths be released?
- What criteria does the State use to determine if a COVID-19 death was a long-term care resident?