State isn’t collecting vaccine-refusal data from Iowa nursing homes

By: - March 20, 2021 11:56 am

Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia discusses vaccine refusal rates at a news conference March 17, 2021, at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

The Iowa Department of Public Health isn’t collecting data on vaccine refusal rates in Iowa’s 440 nursing homes, the department director said this week.

In January, the Iowa Capital Dispatch asked the state public health department for information detailing the vaccine refusal and acceptance rates among workers in each of the state’s 440 privately run nursing homes.

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After a series of email exchanges, a department spokeswoman said the information being sought was not contained in “a report that currently exists,” but said she would work with her team to “pull something in.” The information was never provided.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the overall vaccine-acceptance rate among Iowa’s nursing home workers is 60%.

Later in that same press conference, Reynolds was asked why the state wasn’t disclosing the acceptance and refusal rates for each of the individual nursing homes. She referred the question to IDPH Director Kelly Garcia, who said no state agencies — including the Department of Inspections and Appeals, Department of Human Services and Department of Public Health — collect that sort of information from nursing homes.

“We’re not custodians of that record,” she said. “There’s not a requirement (for homes) to report that information to the state — not to DHS, not to DIA and not to the department of health. At any point in time, if the federal government decides to take that information, we would reassess at that time.”

When reporters asked how the governor had determined the vaccine-acceptance rate among nursing home workers was 60%, Garcia said she would check. A spokesman for the governor, Pat Garrett, said later that the information came from a partnership of Iowa’s long-term care providers and pharmacies. Asked for a copy of the data, he said it had been provided by telephone — but, when asked, he couldn’t say who precisely who provided it, or who had received it.

“Our team is on calls hourly, receiving information and coordinating efforts,” Garrett said, “all as a part of our response to COVID-19 and making sure Iowans get vaccinated … Let me assure you, it is an accurate estimation from a reliable source.”

In early December of last year, Iowa Capital Dispatch asked IDPH for an updated version of its list of nursing homes where outbreaks have occurred during the pandemic. The department has yet to provide the document. Garcia seemed surprised Wednesday when asked why the list had not been provided after three months, asking, “Did you not receive it in December?”

A staff member informed her the request was still being “worked on.”

Both of the information requests to IDPH are now the subject of formal complaints to the Iowa Public Information Board.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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