Lack of data slows long-term nursing home testing project

An expert group that has been collecting data on COVID-19 in Canadian nursing homes says it has to stop its work because provinces no longer make public enough information about the spread of the virus in the sector.

The project of the National Institute on Aging, based at the Metropolitan University of Toronto, was launched in April 2020 and presents information on cases, outbreaks and deaths in long-term residences in the form of a map, with a summary by province and territory.

It has provided data to organizations such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information and has contributed to national and international research on COVID-19 in a sector that has seen a large share of Canada’s deaths due to COVID-19. to the virus.

But provinces have been sharing less data on outbreaks and cases since the beginning of this year and the information is publicly available much less frequently than in the past. Things have reached a point where it is now too difficult to keep the think tank project alive, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the institute.

“It’s not that we don’t want to keep doing this, and that we wouldn’t be interested in volunteering to do this,” Sinha said in an interview. “It is simply impossible to continue doing this task accurately and reliably.”

The Long-Term Care COVID-19 Tracking Project website will remain available online with the data collected as of July 1, but work to update it is stalling.

The long-term care sector is still feeling the effects of COVID-19.

New outbreaks have been rising rapidly in Ontario as the province grapples with a seventh wave of infections, more than doubling week-over-week in early July.

However, without comprehensive data, it is difficult to understand what is happening with COVID-19 in long-term care and how to better respond or plan for future outbreaks, Sinha said.

The National Institute on Aging wants to see provinces and territories come to common agreement on a consistent way to collect and publicly report data on long-term care and COVID-19, he said.

The Canada Long-Term Care COVID-19 Tracking Project was halted due to lack of data. #Covid19 #LongTermCareHomes

The think tank would also like to see the provinces, territories and the federal government choose an independent body that would be in charge of reporting the data.

Sinha suggested giving the Canadian Institute for Health Information a mandate to collect information on COVID-19 in long-term care, something he said he was surprised to learn didn’t already exist when contacted by CIHI representatives earlier in the week. pandemic. interested in the data collection work of his team.

The lack of access to public data on outbreaks, cases and deaths makes it difficult to assess what is happening in the sector and makes governments less accountable to public pressure, Sinha argued.

“I think politically it has become more expedient to just not report information, instead of continuing to remind people that we still have ongoing, systemic issues with protecting our long-term care spaces and their residents,” he said.

Governments may be tracking the data somewhere, but it’s not clear whether the information is being analyzed to inform policy responses, Sinha said, adding that it’s difficult to collect information retroactively if records aren’t kept in good standing. the moment.

“The problem is that you can’t go back,” Sinha said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 28, 2022.

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