Arkansas Health Care Association Executive Warns of Unverified Data, Sensationalized Characterization of Stats on New ACHI LTC COVID Dashboard

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Little Rock, Ark. – On Tuesday, August 16, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) launched a dashboard tracking the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of residents and staff in Arkansas Long Term Care (LTC) facilities. Immediately, LTC facilities across the state began notifying the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA) about the unverified data on the dashboard.

Rachel Bunch, executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association, has issued the following statement on the ACHI dashboard:

“The dashboard misrepresents facts and sensationalizes the pandemic at a time when healthcare workers need our support the most. The ACHI dashboard numbers fail to emphasize the date that vaccines were made available to LTC facilities. Accordingly, they fail to tell the story of the before and after vaccine availability, and how successful they are in preventing serious illness and death in this population. If the goal of the website is transparency, isn’t that something to emphasize?

The data also fails to identify residents that are admitted to facilities already infected with COVID-19. Facilities stepped up and created COVID-19 units to admit individuals with the virus that had to be discharged from the hospital to free up valuable hospital beds. The numbers instead mislead readers into assuming that all nursing home cases were the result of employees' infections and/or failure to vaccinate. Our vaccination rates exceed national rates and are the highest in the region.”

On August 12, CMS reported that Arkansas facilities have surpassed the national average and remain the best in the region for long term care COVID-19 vaccination rates among staff and residents.

The percentage of vaccinated residents in Arkansas facilities is 82.61% where the national average is 82.4%, and 61.03% of staff in Arkansas facilities are vaccinated where the national average is 60%. Additional information about facility vaccinations can be found on the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website and is updated weekly. These rates far surpass the numbers given in limited data required from other provider types, as well as the current rate of vaccination in the general public.

“Furthermore, if AHCI’s mission ‘is to be a catalyst for improving the health of Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy, and collaborative program development’ I would expect ACHI to collaborate with frontline healthcare providers to report verified data and not offer sensationalized perspectives on isolated data points,” said Bunch. “For example, in one location, deaths are reported as a raw number, and in another, they’re listed as a percentage of total COVID-19 cases. If a facility had only two cases and one death, that’s automatically reported as a 50% death rate, which is alarming and misleading to the public and damaging to these facilities that have worked so tirelessly for a year and a half.

ACHI should help spread the reach of CDC and ADH guidelines instead of attacking nursing homes regarding vaccination rates that already surpass the national average and are the best in the region. This is only one piece of the puzzle, and all nursing home staff are required to utilize masks, enforce mask usage with most visitors, and abide by physical distancing requirements when possible.”

The Arkansas state percentage of vaccinated residents is the highest among states in the region beating out Alabama at 81.16%, Florida at 71.85%, Georgia at 77.41%, Kentucky at 81.1%, Louisiana at 79%, Mississippi at 79%, Missouri at 81.99%, South Carolina at 79.24%, Tennessee at 77.86%and Texas at 77.18%. For vaccinated staff, Arkansas still keeps the highest rating at 61.03% as states in the region come in at 56% or less.

“ACHI calls for greater transparency, but this is also misleading,” said Bunch. “Nursing homes have been reporting this data to CMS for months and are also required to notify their staff, residents and families when they have a positive resident or staff member in their facilities. It doesn’t get more transparent than that, and ACHI appears to have piggybacked onto this information for its own purposes. If ACHI is seeking transparency, it needs to focus on other provider types or industries that aren’t already held to this higher standard of transparency and accountability.

At this point, we all know that there are many barriers to vaccination: misinformation, fear, lack of a trusted medical provider, legislative action to prohibit vaccine mandates. AHCA is proud of the work that we have done to educate our people regarding vaccination, provide resources for staff, and coordinate efforts to vaccinate our residents, their families, and our staff. We will continue these efforts despite these ongoing attempts to create more fear and concern, particularly in rural communities.

Nursing homes are only one part of our medical system. We are a vital part of that system, and there is often no comparable substitute. We appreciate all of our long term care workers and wish that AHCI would share our sentiment in thanking these frontline healthcare heroes rather than misrepresent the facts.”

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About AHCA:

Established in 1951, the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA) is the state’s largest organization of long-term care providers, representing more than 90% of the licensed long-term care facilities in Arkansas. Its responsibilities are to educate, inform and represent members and member facilities before government agencies, other trade associations and related industries.