Gov. Doug Ducey talks about long-term care facility increase testing and a new executive order about notification to relatives of COVID-19 exposure in long-term care facilities.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order Monday that requires long-term care facilities to notify residents and their guardians of COVID-19 cases within 24 hours of confirmation.
Facilities must also provide “regular updates” to their residents, next of kin and guardians about what they are doing to keep residents safe.
Ducey’s latest executive order comes as cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, have more than doubled at such facilities in the last month. In Maricopa County, residents of long-term care facilities account for 66% of the county’s total COVID-19 deaths.
Families who have loved ones at these facilities have said that while some administrators provide prompt and regular communications, other places give delayed or spotty reports.
Ducey’s executive order also requires long-term care facilities to disclose to prospective residents and their guardians the number of cases and deaths of COVID-19 that have occurred.
But it’s probably not as simple as calling a facility and asking that question over the phone. The order specifically says the resident or guardian must have “completed an application” and requested the information.
Facilities also must disclose that information to the resident and his or her guardian, before accepting the transfer of a resident from another long-term care facility.
Dana Marie Kennedy, state director of AARP Arizona, the state’s largest advocacy organization for retirees, called the order “a step in the right direction” but says it falls short of total transparency.
For weeks, the Arizona Department of Health Services has been collecting weekly information on confirmed cases of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities but has refused to release the data, citing patient privacy.
Last week, Dr. Cara Christ, head of the state’s health department, suggested the state would only release the names of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases if a judge ordered it. Ducey deferred to Christ when questioned at a news conference last week about the lack of information.
AARP Arizona and local media organizations, including The Arizona Republic, have pressed the state to release facility names. News reporters have filed public records requests, which have been denied, and repeatedly asked for the information at the governor’s weekly news conferences.
The AARP’s Kennedy said the public doesn’t know the full extent of the outbreaks without the facility names.
Kennedy said disclosing facility names would help families make decisions about whether to move their relatives if the facility had a COVID-19 outbreak. Other families who are worried about COVID-19 could feel reassured if the facility where their loved one lives isn’t on the list.
A growing number of states have already made facility names available, including Minnesota, Oklahoma, North Dakota, New Jersey, California, Ohio and Florida.
In Arizona, the information that has surfaced has been piecemeal but suggests long-term care facilities have been hard hit by the coronavirus. Maricopa County alone has 119 long-term care facilities that have reported at least one or more cases as of May 3, though the county also has refused to release facility names.
One Tucson nursing home, Sapphire Nursing Home and Rehab, saw its COVID-19 cases more than double within the last month with 60 residents and 30 staffers infected as well as reports of multiple deaths. Two nursing homes in Chandler, Pennington Gardens and Desert Cove Nursing Center, also have reported multiple cases and deaths.
The Associated Press recently reported as many as 11,000 deaths nationwide among nursing home residents.
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