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Maine Hospitals Worry About Trump Administration's New Coronavirus Data Collection Policy

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
Medical personnel discuss patients that had been admitted for testing for the coronavirus at the entrance Central Maine Medical Center on Friday, March 13, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will no longer receive data from hospitals related to COVID-19. The Trump administration has instead directed hospitals to report that data to a private portal on the federal Health and Human Services website. The change is raising concerns about transparency. And though federal officials are touting it as a way to streamline data collection, some Maine hospitals say it's more burdensome.

Under the new policy, hospitals have to provide daily reports on more than 30 metrics, ranging from available hospital beds and ventilators, to staffing and supplies. Some of this information is already reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control, but not all. Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association says hospitals understand the need for data, but he says it is tough to keep up with standards that keep changing.

"To whom we report the data, what data is reported, the frequency it's reported,” he says. “It's administratively challenging for us."

Austin says the Hospital Association has been told that one of the reasons for the change is to help the federal government better determine where to distribute the drug Remdesivir, which is in high demand to treat patients with COVID-19 in states with surging cases.

"The frustrating part is our understanding is they're going to be doing one distribution a week. So why do they need daily updates of data seven days of week, including Saturday and Sunday?"

Austin says reducing the reporting requirement to just a couple times a week would help.

Along with the administrative burden, some hospitals are concerned that the switch will reduce access to information. That is because hospitals have been specifically directed to bypass the federal CDC's tracking system and instead submit data to a private portal on the U.S. Health and Human Services website.

"The downside to using the DHS website and portal is it will create a lack of visibility and transparency into other systems and other states' information,” says John Alexander, the chief medical officer for Central Maine Healthcare. “In our state we've been using that information all along to keep us well informed and, in some cases, ahead of issues before they got here."

The new requirement does give hospitals the option to report the data to their state, which then relays it to the federal portal. Alexander says he hopes that hospitals here can make that arrangement with the Maine CDC, which would presumably be able to pull the data back.

"And then be able to share it readily with health care institutions around the state so that we can be best prepared to serve our citizens."

The Maine Hospital Association says coordinating with the state CDC could also make reporting easier. In a written statement, state CDC spokesperson Robert Long says that the agency is still assessing the impact of the new requirement, and remains committed to transparency and supporting hospitals as they abide by shifting mandates.

Originally published at 5:42 p.m. July 15, 2020