HHS hospitalization data: more questions arise

Last Tuesday, the post on COVID-19 hospitalization data that I cowrote with Rebecca Glassman was published on the COVID Tracking Project’s blog. We pointed out significant discrepancies between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s counts of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients and counts from state public health departments. You can read the full post here, or check out the cliff notes in this thread:

That same day, the Wall Street Journal published an article on HHS’s estimates of hospital capacity in every state—which, as you may recall from my first newsletter issue, have been plagued with delays and errors. These hospital capacity estimates are based on the raw counts that Rebecca and I analyzed. It appears that errors in hospital reprots are causing errors in HHS’s raw data, which in turn makes it more difficult for HHS analysts to estimate the burden COVID-19 is currently placing on healthcare systems. When the CDC ran this dataset, estimates were updated multiple times a week; now, under the HHS, they are only updated once a week.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that 34 current and former members of a federal health advisory committee had sent a letter opposing the move of hospital data from the CDC to the HHS. These medical and public health experts cited new burdens for hospitals and transparency concerns as issues for HHS’s new data collection system. (The New York Times article references Rebecca’s and my blog post, which is pretty cool.)

In an earlier issue, I reported that several congressmembers had opened an investigation into TeleTracking, the company HHS contracted to build its new data collection system. Well, the New York Times reported on Friday that TeleTracking is refusing to answer congressmembers’ questions because the company signed a nondisclosure agreement.

And finally, HHS chief information officer José Arrieta resigned on Friday. I’m tempted to hop on the next bus to Pittsburgh and start banging on the door of TeleTracking’s headquarters if we don’t get answers soon.

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