Estimates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths among Nursing Home Residents Not Reported in Federal Data

Karen Shen, Lacey Loomer, Hannah Abrams, David C. Grabowski, Ashvin Gandhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Importance: Federal data underestimate the impact of COVID-19 on US nursing homes because federal reporting guidelines did not require facilities to report case and death data until the week ending May 24, 2020. Objective: To assess the magnitude of unreported cases and deaths in the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and provide national estimates of cases and deaths adjusted for nonreporting. Design, Setting, and Participants: This is a cross-sectional study comparing COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by US nursing homes to the NHSN with those reported to state departments of health in late May 2020. The sample includes nursing homes from 20 states, with 4598 facilities in 12 states that required facilities to report cases and 7401 facilities in 19 states that required facilities to report deaths. Estimates of nonreporting were extrapolated to infer the national (15397 facilities) unreported cases and deaths in both May and December 2020. Data were analyzed from December 2020 to May 2021. Exposures: Nursing home ownership (for-profit or not-for-profit), chain affiliation, size, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services star rating, and state. Main Outcomes and Measures: The main outcome was the difference between the COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by each facility to their state department of health vs those reported to the NHSN. Results: Among 15415 US nursing homes, including 4599 with state case data and 7405 with state death data, a mean (SE) of 43.7% (1.4%) of COVID-19 cases and 40.0% (1.1%) of COVID-19 deaths prior to May 24 were not reported in the first NHSN submission in sample states, suggesting that 68613 cases and 16623 deaths were omitted nationwide, representing 11.6% of COVID-19 cases and 14.0% of COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents in 2020. Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that federal NHSN data understated total cases and deaths in nursing homes. Failure to account for this issue may lead to misleading conclusions about the role of different facility characteristics and state or federal policies in explaining COVID outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2122885
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Loomer reported receiving personal fees from the American Health Care Association outside the submitted work. Dr Grabowski reported receiving personal fees from naviHealth, Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, RTI International, Abt Associates, Analysis Group, and Compass Lexecon and grants from the National Institutes on Aging (NIA), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Arnold Foundation, and the Warren Alpert Foundation outside the submitted work. Dr Gandhi reported receiving grants from the NIA through the National Bureau of Economic Research, National Institute for Health Care Management, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Ziman Center for Real Estate, UCLA Fink Center for Finance & Investment, UCLA Price Center for Entrepreneurship, the UCLA Morrison Center for Marketing and Data Analytics, Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences, and Harvard University Lab for Economic Applications Policy outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). All rights reserved.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Journal Article


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