The older, sicker residents in Indiana nursing homes make the environments particularly susceptible to the coronavirus. But there are other reasons why the disease has been so lethal there.
The reluctance of our state’s leaders to offer further disclosures on a real-time basis, is another failure for Hoosiers.
Because of their age, underlying health conditions and the congregate setting in which they live, nursing home residents are painfully vulnerable in the current battle against COVID-19.
So it’s beyond outrageous that state officials still refuse to offer a complete picture of how the novel coronavirus pandemic is ravaging Indiana’s long-term care facilities. Just as officials release the number of new cases of coronavirus and COVID-related deaths statewide day-to-day, it is imperative that they also report daily the number of cases and deaths for each long-term care facility.
‘Reeks of cronyism’: Indiana still hiding nursing home coronavirus info, advocates say
For weeks during daily press briefings, and as other states began to routinely share this vital information, reporters have been hounding Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box to provide the same details.
All four of Indiana’s neighbors are reporting facility-level data on nursing home coronavirus cases. That information is being hidden from Hoosiers.
Holcomb and Box said recently that they will now report weekly on the state’s dashboard updates on the number of coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities. But they still won’tidentify the nursing homes where outbreaks have occurred.
IndyStar has begun to compile its own list of nursing homes where the coronavirus cases and deaths have occurred from our own reporting.
One-third of deaths are in nursing homes
This information is critical to our community. Here’s why:
Nursing homes now account for nearly one-third of Indiana’s COVID-19 deaths, state officials announced Monday. The reported 260 deaths are tied to 85 nursing homes across the state.
As of Monday, 1,467 nursing home residents have tested positive at 148 long-term care facilities. I guarantee the number of deaths and cases is now higher. A once-a-week snapshot from the state is insufficient and negligent.
A worker sanitizes a trash can and bench outside the Homewood Health Campus assisted living facility, 2494 Lebanon St. in Lebanon Ind., Tuesday, April 21, 2020. The facility is shown during the hight COVID19 pandemic in Indiana. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)
Officials Monday also issued guidelines requiring nursing facilities, skilled nursing facilities, residential facilities and assisted-living facilities to provide details on positive cases and deaths to residents and their designated family representative — if they request that information.
Those rules go into effect May 4, nearly two months after the first Hoosiers died from COVID-19 on March 10.
Public release of information is critical
Again, this is not good enough — comprehensive and timely data is a necessity. Punting the responsibility of keeping the public informed during a constantly-evolving health crisis could endanger lives.
It appears Holcomb was only coaxed into action after an order was announced on April 19 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, mandating nursing homes to report cases of COVID-19 to residents, their families and to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet as of April 23, Indiana remained one of 15 states that had not made public details about the prevalence of coronavirus cases and deaths in long-term care facilities, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.
Sarah Troutman and her husband Willard visit with her father in an Anderson nursing home, but they are frustrated at a lack of answers.
Consider Tammy Bowman, whose sister was a resident at Brooke Knoll Village in Avon. She was told by the nursing home that it had no coronavirus cases, even after a resident tested positive on March 29. Bowman’s sister, Kim Blanchar, 68, was sent to the hospital on April 6 and tested positive. She was dead 10 days later.
These are real families — real lives shattered because of Indiana’s secrecy.
About 1.3 million people reside in the nation’s 15,600 nursing homes, according to the CDC. Nearly 39,000 Hoosiers live in Indiana’s more than 530 nursing homes. Historically, long-term care facilities have struggled to manage widespread infections — even when there is not a pandemic.
Seventy-five percent of U.S. nursing homes have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the past three years, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal inspection data published last month.
It’s abundantly clear that we cannot rely on nursing home officials — on high-alert coronavirus triage — to disseminate details in a timely manner.
Most Indiana nursing homes are not private businesses
Still, Holcomb and Box continue to refuse to identify specific nursing homes where residents have tested positive or died, leaving families in the dark and unable to make critical decisions whether they want to move their loved one who could be at risk of infection if there is a widespread outbreak.
“I will not,” Holcomb responded last week when asked to release facility names. “And the reason is because we respect that private business, that nursing home that is operating under our regulations, and that’s where the relationship exists.”
Holcomb insists that these nursing homes are a private business. Yet 90% of Indiana’s nursing homes are owned by county hospitals, which are units of local government, and receive hundreds of millions in tax dollars a year, an IndyStar March investigation revealed.
While hundreds of residents have died from COVID-19 in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, Holcomb and Box also refuse to provide a breakdown of how many victims are residents and how many were workers.
Homewood Health Campus assisted living facility, 2494 Lebanon St., in Lebanon Ind., Tuesday, April 21, 2020. The facility is shown during the height of the COVID19 pandemic in Indiana. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)
The reluctance of our state’s leaders to offer further disclosures about what is happening in our nursing homes on a real-time basis, is another failure for Hoosiers families and the public at large, who have a right to this information. As we continue conversations about reopening Indiana, transparent communication is critical.
Email IndyStar columnist Suzette Hackney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend her on Facebook at Suzette Hackney and follow her on Twitter: @suzyscribe.
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