More data the Wolf administration says it doesn’t have

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Op-Ed by Gina Diorio. The following commentary originally appeared at Broad + Liberty.

When it comes to transparency, what’s unsaid is sometimes more important than what’s said.

Last month in these pages, I asked if the Wolf administration would follow the example of New York and New Jersey in releasing a breakdown of how many Covid-19 hospitalizations are “for” Covid vs. “with” Covid. After all, in some locations outside of Pennsylvania, the split had been almost 50-50, which makes a significant difference in the narrative on the severity of the disease.

Not surprisingly, when I asked our state Department of Health (DOH) for this information, my inquiry was ignored. So, I did what any Pennsylvanian can do: I filed a Right-to-Know request with DOH requesting a weekly breakdown of this information for a set period of time.

On Jan. 25, DOH’s Open Records Officer responded, writing: “The Department conducted a search for records and I have been advised that no records exist within the Department concerning your RTKL request. The Department does not have any information that is responsive to your request in its possession or under its custody or control.”

That’s right. As the Wolf administration issues weekly press releases on Covid vaccinations, cases, and hospitalizations — and as many media outlets dutifully parrot DOH’s numbers — our state Department of Health isn’t tracking how many Covid hospitalizations are actually due to Covid.

This isn’t the only thing the administration claims not to know. You’ll recall several weeks ago the news stories about hospitals being overwhelmed. (Of course, per the above, we don’t know how many of these patients were “for” vs. “with” Covid…but I digress.)

This got me thinking: With a shortage of healthcare workers due to various reasons — yes, vaccine mandates likely among them — how many staffed hospital beds did Pennsylvania have in late 2021 compared with late 2020?

You see, a hospital can have a certain number of licensed beds, but the number of staffed beds is those actually available for use, with sufficient staff to care for the patients. If the number of staffed beds had dropped significantly over the past year, this provides important context when talking about overwhelmed hospitals.

So, I submitted a Right-to-Know request to the Department of Health asking for this information. In response, DOH told me that “information on the number of beds set up and staffed from 1/1/2021 through 12/31/2021 does not yet exist,” as it’s compiled in a report that won’t be released until March.

But not to worry. There’s another source. Phil Kerpen, president of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, tracked down data on the 365-day change in staffed inpatient beds, by state, from January 13, 2021 to January 13, 2022. This data is based on information collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What he found is that over this time period, the number of staffed hospital beds in Pennsylvania dropped from 32,999 to 30,550 — a decrease of nearly 2,500 or 7.4%. This was more than the national decline of 5.2%. (Since January, these numbers have changed, and updated figures can be found here, also provided by Mr. Kerpen.)

But here’s the point: If Pennsylvania saw a 7.4% drop in staffed hospital beds, it stands to reason this may have had at least something to do with hospitals being overwhelmed. But again, when it comes to the Wolf administration, relevant facts remain unsaid.

This calls to mind the many previous instances of missing or hidden data from the administration:

  • There was the restaurant data and travel data that never existed but that Gov. Wolf used to justify his shutdowns and restrictions.
  • Then there was the Covid hospitalization-by-vaccination-status data that the administration skewed to fit its narrative.
  • And of course there was the data the Wolf administration refused early on to give regarding Covid recoveries, instead simply telling us to ‘trust the experts’ while neglecting to say who those ‘experts’ were.

When it comes to the Wolf administration, what’s said may make it into the headlines — but what’s unsaid is often the real story.

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Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in