DE pandemic report cover

Confusing, and sometimes conflicting, coronavirus pandemic information and guidance from Delaware’s public health officials often left assisted living community administrators on their own in the middle of a crisis, according to a special report from the state auditor’s office.

Kathy McGuiness and her team reviewed federal and state guidance and data reports, and they surveyed and interviewed long-term care directors, to analyze the state’s pandemic response to assisted living communities, residential home facilities, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities.

The result is a special report of observations and recommendations in a special report, “Unanswered Questions: Improving Technology, Communications, and Reporting in Long-Term Care Facilities During the Pandemic.” 

“What we learned was that confusing and sometimes conflicting guidance from state and federal officials led those administrators to ask the state many questions — and those imperative questions were often not answered in a timely manner,” McGuiness said in a statement. Facilities, she added, needed clearer guidance and help from the state early in the pandemic.

McGuiness found that COVID-19 guidance changed frequently, came from multiple sources and was difficult to interpret. The report also noted that long-term care facilities did not receive timely assistance from state health agencies in a crisis, and data reported to the federal government did not match data reported through the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Although applauding state health officials for working diligently to provide guidance to long-term care facilities, she said the special report was meant to help them improve in specific areas, including communication, guidance and data reporting. The report’s recommendations, McGuiness said, will help the state provide a more accurate picture of how residents and staff members are being affected by the pandemic.

“The goal of my evaluation was to help minimize the risk of infection to those vulnerable Delawareans in [long-term care facilities] by suggesting more efficient processes for state health officials to implement,” McGuiness stated in the report.

Among the report’s recommendations are to explore shared technology solutions to provide both data collection and reporting, assign a 24 / 7 resource for long-term care facility administrators, create an inquiry follow-up system with a prioritization system log, improve reporting accuracy and transparency, better define terms for pubic reporting, and evaluate providing additional technical assistance, training and process improvement support to long-term care facilities.