Faculty member part of USA Today investigation into nursing home deaths

A Grand Valley faculty member and freelance investigative journalist has once again been part of a comprehensive USA Today investigation, this time examining nursing home care during the pandemic.

In addition, the work done by the USA Today team that includes Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, assistant professor of multimedia journalism, has been cited by health policy advisors to President Joe Biden as the administration considers nursing home reform.

This investigation came on the heels of another project Kelly Lowenstein co-authored for USA Today in 2019 that addressed reverse mortgages, eventually leading to a hearing on Capitol Hill that drew on those findings.

The most recent project that Kelly Lowenstein co-authored for USA Today, "Dying for Care," was an investigation released this month. It started with a deep analysis of the nation's more than 15,000 nursing homes to see how they performed during a winter surge of COVID infections and deaths that started in late 2020. 

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein smiles in a posed portrait.
Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, assistant professor of multimedia journalism

The investigation found one nursing home chain stood out for death rates, Kelly Lowenstein said. According to a USA Today story, when presented with the investigation's findings, the chain said it "had mistakenly reported hundreds of deaths during the surge" and offered a revised tally that reduced the death count, saying "it had filed new numbers with the federal government."

Kelly Lowenstein said the data was complex, as were details about the ownership and business operations of the nursing homes that needed to be examined. He said his primary role in the investigation was focusing on staffing at nursing homes in different periods before the pandemic and during the pandemic.

He said he was grateful to work on a high-level team with deep resources where professionals backstopped his analysis as well as that of the other journalists. He shared his experiences with students, including fact-checking, pitching and other aspects of the project to help them understand the intricacies of such an investigation.

"I talked about this a lot with the students, it's just absolutely critical to have a rigorous and entrenched fact-checking process," Kelly Lowenstein said, adding, "In these days it's really important to get it right and then even more so because of all the mistrust of media and accusations of fake news."

He noted the thrill of being at the airport, returning from spring break, and seeing the front page of USA Today with the published investigation. "That never gets old."

This work was done with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Kelly Lowenstein said.


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