Infection rate information deleted from state website

Determining infection rate performance for hospitals in Missouri could pose a challenge for patients--or anyone else, for that matter. Since 2006, when such data was first posted online, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has been deleting it on a quarterly basis. What's more, department officials plan to continue the practice, although no other electronic or paper records for the older information exist, citing a lack of funding, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Given our skimpy resources, we're pretty much doing what the law tells us to do," Mark Van Tuinen, one of the state's data managers, told the newspaper. "For us to save the old [numerical] tables each quarter would take a lot of work. It isn't that simple an operation." The agency's overall yearly budget is roughly $1 billion.

The situation was brought to light when Post-Dispatch reporters, unable to retrieve infection data from previous years for hospitals online, requested the information from the health department, only to be stonewalled yet again. The newspaper first was told that the information no longer existed. It then was told that the information could be obtained, but "only if a programmer was available" and "if the party requesting the information paid the cost" of retrieval. 

"It's pretty sad to me that the [health] department can't give you a trend to show that a hospital is getting better or worse," said state Rep. Rob Schaaf, who helped pass a bill in 2004 that forced hospitals to post annual infection rates. "It shows that the department really doesn't care." 

The health department's current procedure consists of posting data as "numerical tables and graphs" on a website every three months. As the newest quarter of information is added, the oldest quarter's information is deleted. 

"Essentially, we write over what the previous report was," Susan Elder, chief of the state department of health's Bureau of Health Informatics. "Those [numerical] tables don't reside anywhere, [but] we have the technical capacity to go in and analyze the data if we choose to do so." 

To learn more:
- read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article