SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Starting today the Trump administration is requiring hospitals to change the way they report critical information about COVID-19. Instead of sending data about things like capacity and equipment to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, hospitals are being told to bypass the CDC and send that data to the Department of Health and Human Services through a private company. Here to tell us more about this is NPR's Pien Huang.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: So give us some more background here, if you would. How has this data collection worked up until now?
HUANG: Sure. So the CDC has been collecting data from hospitals about patient and health care worker safety for decades. And back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC started using that same network to collect information about whether hospitals had enough beds and protective gear for their hospital workers to treat COVID patients. Now, this data is really important for hospitals and for states and for the federal government to know day-by-day whether hospitals are capable of caring for the COVID patients they have and how long they can sustain that for. And Dr. Grace Lee, associate chief medical officer at Children's Hospital Stanford, says she's happy with the way that it's been working so far.
GRACE LEE: So our hospitals have been reporting into the COVID module for the past few months, and it's actually working extremely well. So I'm very surprised that at this point we are being asked or mandated to report into a parallel system.
HUANG: So what's changed is that, starting today, Stanford and all the hospitals across America have been instructed to use a separate reporting system. It's built and run by a private government contractor company called TeleTracking. And it takes the same information and routes it directly to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, going around the CDC.
MCCAMMON: And why did the administration decide to make this change in how this coronavirus data is reported?
HUANG: Well, Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for Public Affairs at HHS, said the CDC's reporting system was too slow and that it wasn't getting every single hospital to report. And CDC Director Robert Redfield also supported the change. He said that the new system would reduce the reporting burden on hospitals, streamline data collection. And he said CDC could still access the data that's collected, so it wouldn't necessarily be taken away from them. But there are concerns from within the CDC itself. I spoke with Dr. Daniel Pollock. He's surveillance branch chief for CDC's Division of Health Care Quality Promotion, which runs the original data network. And he says the new reporting system ignores the agency's valuable expertise.
DANIEL POLLOCK: We have a longstanding working relationship with the hospitals. We have means of being able to do quality checks over the incoming data.
HUANG: Pollock says he's confident in the accuracy and completeness of the data that CDC collects. And he's not so sure whether the new data system will be as thorough. And also, some of the public health experts that NPR spoke with today say that this is the latest in a series of moves in which the administration is sidelining the CDC, which is supposed to be the nation's public health agency, and undermining its science and credibility in the midst of a pandemic.
MCCAMMON: And where does this leave the hospitals that now have to comply with this change?
HUANG: Well, not in a great place, a lot of them say. Many of them just found out about the changes this week. And Grace Lee from Stanford says that it's adding a lot of unnecessary stress.
LEE: It's adding burden at a time when hospitals again are now responding to the surge of COVID-19 in all of our states and our facilities. And so, like, the timing couldn't be worse, to be honest.
HUANG: Other hospitals say they're really scrambling to adjust the change. And a doctor at Boston Medical Center told us that they just found out about the requirement yesterday. And they're just starting to grapple with the enormity of it. So the administration is receiving a lot of pushback against it. We'll see what happens.
MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Pien Huang.
Thank you so much.
HUANG: Thanks, Sarah.
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