At the onset of the pandemic, Health and Human Services Department created a data system for hospitals to report COVID-related data, including bed counts and supply inventories.

But hospitals were frustrated, and eventually incapacitated by frequent changes to reporting requirements, according to an audit from the Government Accountability Office.

NextGov summarizes the audit findings:

The department launched the HHS Protect program in April 2020—early in the pandemic—as a way to collect and disseminate capacity data, including “national- and state-level data on inpatient and intensive care beds in use, supplies of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 treatments,” the report states.

But as the pandemic went on, HHS officials found the ways in which data were being reported was not effective.

“Subsequently, HHS changed the methods through which data could be reported to HHS Protect and also changed reporting requirements,” the report states. “According to HHS officials, this was done to capture more complete data and to capture more information, such as data on influenza-related hospitalizations and COVID-19 vaccines administered.”

But the “frequent and significant changes” were done without full consultation of stakeholders, including the local hospitals most in need of the data.

Originally, HHS established five avenues for hospitals to report staffing and resources data, including:

  • States or state hospital associations could report on behalf of hospitals in that state directly to HHS Protect.
  • Hospitals could report through TeleTracking, a method developed specifically for reporting to HHS Protect.
  • Hospitals could report their data to the National Healthcare Safety Network, or NHSN.
  • Hospitals could authorize their information technology vendor to share information directly with HHS.
  • Hospitals could publish their data in a standardized format on their websites.

But three months later, HHS removed NHSN as a reporting option.