VDH Outbreak Reporting Won’t Save Lives, Inspectors Will

by Carol J. Bova

Back in June, I asked “Where Are the Other 52 Nursing Homes with Outbreaks?” because that was the number missing from the Long Term Care Facility Task Force dashboard. The Task Force explained it wasn’t involved with group homes and residential behavioral health facilities and, therefore, did not include them in their dashboard — even though those facilities are included in the numbers for the VDH Long Term Outbreaks report.

The new outbreak information dashboard the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) created to comply with HB 5048 of the 2020 General Assembly Special Session Number One will include those groups in the weekly report, VDH announced on its blog December 18. (Summer camps and K-12 Schools will  be listed also.)

The dashboard will include confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks that occurred in medical care facilities, residential or day programs licensed by Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Department of Social Services (DSS), or Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), summer camps, and kindergarten (K)-12th grade schools.

Transparency is always good, but a new report will not address the need for inspectors whose work could actually reduce the incidence and death rates.

The department has hired nearly 2,000 public health professionals since May for case investigation and contract tracing. As large as it was, that number proved to be inadequate for the recent resurgence. On December 7, VDH announced its new contract tracing priorities:

  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past six days and their household contacts.
  • People living or working in or visiting congregate living facilities.
  • People involved in known clusters or outbreaks.
  • People at increased risk of severe illness.

Three of the four priorities apply to long term care facility residents and staff, but contact tracing and investigation has not solved the problem. VDH reported 179 Long Term Care outbreaks for June 22, with 6,608 cases and 1,013 deaths. The December 22 report, shows 680 outbreaks, 19,493 cases and 2,264 deaths.

VDH needs to do what should have done at the beginning of the pandemic: invest in more inspectors for all long-term care and other facilities to enforce infection prevention and control procedures.

James C. Sherlock spelled it out on November 30th, in “Shortage of Health Facilities Inspectors Puts All Virginians at Risk.” He quoted from a FOIA response from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Licensure and Certification (OLC):

Neither the current authorized staffing nor the current actual staffing allow OLC to meet its statutory and regulatory mandates. The specific shortfalls affecting OLC are the lack of sufficient medical facilities inspectors (MFIs) to conduct state licensure inspections. Even if OLC had every MFI vacancy filled, it would still not be enough to meet the statutorily prescribed 2-year interval between routine state licensure inspections.

COVID is not the only deadly communicable disease in long term care and other facilities; C. difficile and MRSA </a> among others will continue to be there even after the COVID vaccine. When will the Commonwealth of Virginia recognize the need for more inspectors and act?

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One response to “VDH Outbreak Reporting Won’t Save Lives, Inspectors Will”

  1. sherlockj Avatar

    VDH has been asking for the money for more inspectors for a long time.

    The hospitals and nursing homes don’t want them to get it, because they don’t like to be inspected. So the money hasn’t been forthcoming in the Governor’s budget or budget amendments by the General Assembly.

    As I commented once before, the hospital lobbyists could whistle up the Governor and a majority in the GA to block a cure for cancer. Blocking money for proper inspections is like “the tenor clearing his throat” for those guys.

    Welcome to Virginia.

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