By The Washington Post · Meryl Kornfield · NATIONAL, HEALTH
Although most states rely solely on the long-term-care facilities to notify residents and their families of such cases, officials in Florida and California made the nursing homes' names public after facing pressure to be more transparent with families and to better understand the virus's spread.
Federal officials also announced a new push for transparency Sunday, saying nursing homes must start reporting their covid-19 cases to patients, their families and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
California officials said their list is only partial. Some other states, such as New York and Georgia, also have released partial lists, while many others, such as New Jersey, have not publicly reported nursing homes that have had cases.
In addition to notifying families, states' data have illuminated how the virus has spread among the country's most vulnerable. One out of every four coronavirus deaths in Florida was associated with long-term facilities, the recently released numbers show.
However, Florida's list doesn't share how many cases were tied to each facility, meaning some facilities could be more deadly than others without the public realizing it.
A lawsuit drafted by the Miami Herald, which has drawn support from a coalition of news media, including The Washington Post, first asked for the data. Florida provided the information, but not all of it, Miami Herald publisher and Executive Editor Aminda Marqués González said.
"We are heartened that Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken this first step toward transparency," Marqués González said, according to the Herald. "However, we urge the state to release important details - beyond the names of elderly care facilities - including the number of cases at each facility and the number of COVID-19 deaths. This is the critical information families need to make informed decisions about care for their loved ones."
Carol LoCicero, of Thomas & LoCicero, who is representing the coalition, told The Post that her firm is "reviewing the information the state finally released over the weekend, but the news organizations remain committed to getting full details on elder care facilities and the virus."
"Families deserve to know," LoCicero added.
Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, echoed those sentiments as she described new federal reporting requirements for nursing homes at Sunday's coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.
"It is important that patients and their families have the information they need," she said.
Pushing back against calls for further accountability from nursing homes during this crisis, facilities argue that additional data would do little to prevent the spread of the virus, given the age and underlying conditions of residents, staff shortages and limited personal protective equipment.
"Outbreaks are not the result of inattentiveness or a shortcoming in nursing homes," David Gifford, chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, previously told The Post. "It's the combination of the behavior of this virus and the unique threat it presents to the people we care for - older adults with multiple underlying health conditions."
Of more than 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, over 650 Medicare-certified facilities have had infections, a review by The Washington Post found. Experts, noting inconsistent reporting to health officials, warn that the true number is probably higher. The virus has been especially deadly for older Americans.
"Nursing homes are the single-biggest fear in all of this - vulnerable people in one place," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said during a Saturday briefing. "It is the feeding frenzy for this virus despite everything we can do and the best efforts of people working in those nursing homes, who are doing just a fantastic job."
Defending the limited data on nursing homes that New York state has made public, Cuomo said that most nursing homes are private and that officials would investigate if the state received a complaint that a facility was not reporting cases and deaths.
"Any nursing home that thinks they're going to sit there and people are not going to figure out how many people passed away in that nursing home are kidding themselves," he said. "More than anything, it's that they are overwhelmed."
More than a week after New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told nursing homes to be upfront with residents, staff members and families about cases and deaths, an anonymous tip led police to discover 17 bodies in an Andover nursing home's small morgue.
Not knowing whether an elderly family member is at risk is frustrating, said John BaRoss, who pulled his mother out of a New Jersey facility because he believed she was safer at his home.
"Families deserve to have the information," BaRoss previously told The Post. "Let us have the information, and let us decide."