EARTH FUTURE ACTION
Update 5/6/20 - We would like to commend the members of Virginia's Senate and General Assembly for making a bipartisan call for more data on Covid-19 outbreaks at nursing homes. (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
Families with loved ones at nursing homes have been demanding information about Covid 19 positive cases.
Facilities in both states are required to report cases to their local health department which shares that information with state leaders.
However, both states have refused to publicly disclose which facilities have outbreaks, citing an interpretation of state law that deems the reporting facility as "a person" and thus exempt for privacy reasons.
Virginia's Department of Health releases a daily report with the number of COVID-19 outbreaks statewide. On April 21, there were outbreaks at 80 long-term care facilities statewide, accounting for 939 positive cases and 77 deaths.
The state data includes individual pie charts for each health district, containing the number of long-term care facilities with current outbreaks. The Fairfax Health District leads the state with 24, followed by Loudoun with seven. Arlington has five, Alexandria has three and Prince William has one. (NBC Washington, 4-22-20)
Northern Virginia nursing homes, assisted living and care centers account for at least 40 outbreaks, however, it has been found that fewer than half of those facilities' names have been disclosed publicly. (NBC Washington, 4-22-20)
Maryland's Department of Health has made a similar determination, refusing to release facility names. On April 5, Governor Larry Hogan announced outbreaks at 90 long-term care facilities. Daily reports posted online in Maryland do not include that data and the state has not publicized comprehensive data regarding long-term care facilities since then. (NBC Washington, 4-22-20)
It's time that nursing homes release this information.
State legislators have said the following:
Senator David Suetterlein R-Salem has said, "Many legislators, though, say the administration is relying on an overly strict interpretation of state law that shrouds vital information from the public eye. With no statewide reporting requirement, individual facilities are given the choice of whether to publicly disclose outbreaks. In some cases, staff members have identified sites by name when owners and managers have failed to come forward. And with no clear guidelines, there’s no guarantee that facilities will voluntarily share the information." (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
Democratic Senator Scott Surovell, an attorney from Alexandria, said there are some problems with the administration’s interpretation of the state health laws concerning health care and individual privacy. While health officials have emphasized that “person” should be interpreted to include individual companies and facilities, Surovell pointed out that section 32.1-41 of the law applies specifically to individual patients and practitioners. And there’s little chance that individual identities would be revealed by disclosing the names of facilities with outbreaks. (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
Senator George Barker, D-Fairfax, a senior member of the Senate Health and Education Committee, said the interpretation was also inconsistent with other data made publicly available by the state. Since the early 1990s, facility-specific data has been available through the Virginia Health Information system, an independent agency whose reports on individual nursing homes include the percentage of residents who have gone to the emergency room, received antipsychotic medication, and other metrics. (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
“We need to reexamine how [the administration] is interpreting this,” added Delegate Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions committee. He suggested that health officials could find a compromise approach, such as reporting the names of facilities once the number of infected residents rises above a certain threshold. (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
If individuals also want to help with the situation, NBC Washington has posted advice for individuals on how they can help:
Here's where you can help: If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility in D.C., Maryland or Virginia and you've been getting firsthand information about positive tests, or deaths from COVID-19, please send an email to tips@News4iteam.com and help fill in those gaps. (NBC Washington, 4-22-20)
Legislators make bipartisan call for more data on COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes (Virginia Mercury, 5-6-20)
Maryland, Virginia Refuse to Disclose Names of Long-Term Care Facilities with COVID-19 Outbreaks (NBC Washington, 4-22-20)