Hospital COVID-19 Data Going Back To The CDC. Or Maybe The Coast Guard.
A bit over a month ago, the Trump administration told hospitals across America to stop reporting key COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and instead send the data to a new data system at the Department of Health and Human Services. The transition was anything but smooth, and public health experts started complaining that the new HHS system's reports were inconsistent and not updated often enough. Now, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, it looks like another change is on the way: Hospitals will "soon" be sending the data to the CDC once more. At least once the CDC gets an all-new data system up and running. They may have to turn it off and on again a few times to work out the bugs, too.
What could possibly go wrong?
The Journal says the latest change was announced by the administration's COVID Whisperer, Dr. Deborah Birx, to "hospital executives and government officials in Arkansas" earlier this week. She explained that the wholesale switch to the HHS system a month ago was actually "solely an interim system," and that the CDC would once again take over responsibility for COVID-19 data. Birx said that
CDC is working with us right now to build a revolutionary new data system so it can be moved back to the CDC, and they can have that regular accountability with hospitals relevant to treatment and [personal protective equipment].
Remember, the rationale for shifting the data reporting from CDC to the new HHS system was that the CDC's existing system, the National Healthcare Safety Network, was too slow and inefficient. The nifty new HHS system, built under a $10 million no-bid contract by health IT company TeleTracking Technologies Inc., would be much more nimble and powerful, and could handle reports from many more hospitals. It was the best thing going!
Michael Caputo, the Roger Stone acolyte who serves as HHS's chief mouthpiece despite having no medical background, had said the CDC system was weak slow poop, and that the CDC "just cannot keep up with this pandemic," necessitating the switch to the new "HHS Protect" system, which could handle the job, you bet. HHS's
new, faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus, and the C.D.C., an operating division of H.H.S., will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it.
The Wall Street Journal doesn't offer a lot of information about what motivated the latest switch, to what sounds like a third, still-in-development system, but the data problems the Journal reported earlier this month certainly seem to be a big part of it. The paper had more on that in its latest story, too.
"The changeover was very abrupt," said Dr. Thomas Talbot, chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "We track across our region things like hospitalization numbers, and we've increasingly noticed it being more difficult for hospitals to meet daily deadlines. We still see hospitals that just have no data reported for the day."
The hospital data is important because it helps determine how much remdesivir, a key antiviral treatment for Covid-19, the federal government distributes to each state. But hospitals also need to see consistent data from other hospitals in their region so that they can deploy enough health-care workers and beds in certain areas and respond to outbreaks by providing doctors and nurses with sufficient protective equipment.
An unnamed "HHS official" also emailed the Journal a statement saying the new CDC system was being developed in collaboration with the US Digital Service to "build a modernized automation process" for hospital data.
"We know that asking hospitals to manually enter information every day has to be an interim process to reduce the burden placed on the hospitals," the official said.
The Journal explains the US Digital Service is a "small agency" set up during the Obama administration to help iron out problems with Healthcare.gov, the consumer gateway to purchasing insurance.
Why, that sounds like maybe it involves capable civil servants who know a thing or two about handling large amounts of medical data. You mean to say there's no no-bid contract with a private firm that just dropped out of nowhere to take on a huge government job? And there's still an agency started under Barack Obama that's intact? Does Donald Trump know this madness is going on?
The Journal also notes, perhaps even teasingly, that the return of COVID-19 data coincides with some big personnel changes at HHS and at CDC:
Jose Arrieta, the HHS's data chief, resigned abruptly last Friday, saying in a statement that he wanted to spend more time with his children.
Mr. Arrieta, who couldn't be reached for comment, didn't attend several planned conference calls with public-health officials on Friday [August 14], according to a person familiar with his schedule. A spokesman for the CDC didn't respond to a request to comment on the new data-collection system.
On top of that, two other top Trump appointees at the CDC chose last Friday to leave the public health agency "to start a consulting firm," as people do. The Journal scrupulously notes, "It wasn't clear whether any of Friday's resignations were related to problems with the new data-reporting system."
Gosh that seems unlikely. Seems to us this administration just likes giving people the opportunity to pursue new opportunities all the time, because entrepreneurs make this country great.
We'll check in soon on the administration's next adventure in COVID-19 data fuckery, which we suspect will involve paying the US Postal Service to collect printouts of data from hospitals, place the papers in mail trucks with an equal number of mail-in ballots, and drive them at high speed into active volcanoes.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.