New federal caregiver database full of holes

Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein are still working with databases of disciplined caregivers, this time exposing gaping holes in the federal database released to hospitals on March 1 (LA Times version | ProPublica version). Weber and Ornstein trace the holes to a lack of reporting by state agencies, and mention California, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Alabama, Delaware, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana as states whose database entries were demonstrably incomplete. Some states don’t even have a single disciplined caregiver showing up in the federal database even though scores of offenders are listed on those states’ own sites.

The omissions took federal health officials by surprise. Only last month, a spokesman for the agency that oversees the database told reporters that “no data is missing.” Another official said the agency had been “constantly” checking its data against state licensing board websites.

But Friday, the head of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) acknowledged that records were missing. She said her agency had launched a “full and complete” review to determine what is wrong and how to fix it.

The Department of Health and Human Services has reacted swiftly, Ornstein and Weber report. HHS boss Kathleen Sebelius sent U.S. governors a letter requesting that they identify and correct any holes in the federal database by June 1, at which point any states whose entries were not updated will be named and shamed in an HSS report. HHS will train state staff in compliance and audit the database to make sure everybody’s following the rules. States have, as of yet, not faced any penalties for failing to update the list over the preceding two decades.

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