Tester Demands Trump Administration Reverse Move to Undermine Montana’s COVID-19 Hospital Data Collection and Reporting

Senator: “The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester led a group of his colleagues in demanding that the Trump Administration reverse course on recent changes that would require Montana hospitals to report COVID-19 data to a new system set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead of the well-established National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which is run by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Tester and his colleagues slammed the Administration’s abrupt and harmful move to transition to a brand new data reporting system over NHSN—which has been in use by Montana hospitals for more than a decade—in the midst of a global public health emergency and rising COVID-19 cases across the Treasure State.

“Montana’s hospitals have used the same system to effectively report data to the CDC for more than a decade, and in the middle of a global pandemic, it goes without saying that this data is critical to our state’s ability to bolster public health and ensure the safety of our communities,” said Tester. “This Administration’s move to scrap a tried and true system for the sake of controlling the data being reported will only endanger American lives. Hospitals and medical professionals across our state have made one thing clear: the President must reverse course on this decision or we will undermine our ability to effectively fight this virus.”

Montana hospitals have raised the alarm on the dangers of changing the reporting system in the middle of the global health crisis, reinforcing the diversion of resources—especially in small, frontier hospitals—that this change necessitates:

“Additional data reporting oftentimes creates a staffing burden for our critical access hospitals,” said Rich Rasmussen, President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association. “This new request not only shifts the reporting to a new portal, but also dramatically increases the number of data fields that must be completed and submitted daily. For facilities with no COVID hospitalizations or active cases in the county, this new requirement poses a challenge to our frontier hospitals. We are scrambling to identify an automation tool to alleviate the burden and comply with the directive.”

In his letter, Tester and his colleagues highlight how the sudden shift to a new system could undermine the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic: hospitals unable to switch within 48 hours could lose access to critical supplies; states that have built their own response and data systems based on the NHSN could lose access to critical information; and the decision to circumvent CDC could lead to disruption in the data collected, questions about its accuracy, and hampered access for public health experts and the general public.

“Without adequate data, the country has been unable to appropriately adjust our response to COVID-19—a reality highlighted by the dearth of reliable data on the heavy burden of COVID-19 on communities of color and other vulnerable populations,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “The American people deserve to know the true scope of the pandemic, and that can only happen if public health experts lead in collecting and reporting data accurately and transparently. By abruptly changing the reporting process by requiring hospitals to report to HHS and circumventing CDC, we are concerned there will be a disruption in the data collected and questions about the accuracy of that data.”

Tester has worked relentlessly to bolster public health in Montana, and to ensure the state is equipped to handle the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, he secured nearly $2 million for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Laboratory to help with testing and immunization support. Earlier this month, he introduced legislation to bolster Montana’s Medicaid program during the crisis, and he recently introduced a resolution condemning the Trump Administration’s reckless effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which rural hospitals and clinics rely on to survive.

Read the full text of Senator Tester’s letter HERE.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak