Families with elderly loved ones living in long-term care facilities have been clamoring for information about positive COVID-19 cases, many telling the News4 I-Team they were unaware of an outbreak at a facility until their loved one became infected.
The federal government has now mandated residents and their families be notified, but facilities are currently not required to alert the public. Virginia and Maryland have each refused to disclose the names of facilities with infected residents or staff, leaving loved ones with no way to know if cases are being hidden.
The News4 I-Team has spent weeks working to compile a list of all long-term care facilities in Maryland and Virginia with positive COVID-19 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.
"As a community, I think we really need to know more information so we have a full understanding of what our community is facing and we can make good decisions," said Elizabeth Brokamp, who lost her father, William Rouse, on April 17th.
Brokamp says she had last heard from staff at Greenspring Senior Living in Fairfax County when only one resident and a few staff were sick. Then she says she got a call last week that her 95-year-old father wasn't doing well. He died two days later from COVID-19.
"There’s the really personal side — if you know what to expect, to at least know what your loved one is facing, maybe you can help or reach out one last time," Brokamp said.
In a statement to News4, a spokesperson for Greenspring confirmed there have been four deaths of facility residents. An additional 8 residents have currently tested positive, along with 11 staff members.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
“Greenspring remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting the health and well-being of residents and staff members. We continue to do everything in our power to prevent the spread of the virus anywhere on campus,” said Dan Dunne, director of external communications for Erickson Living.
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.
Northern Virginia nursing homes, assisted living and care centers account for at least 40 outbreaks, however, the I-Team found fewer than half of those facilities' names have been disclosed publicly.
The I-Team filed a Freedom of Information request with Virginia's Department of Health in an effort to obtain all of those names. The state rejected the request saying releasing the names of the facilities "would compromise the anonymity of the patient." The Virginia Code defines a "person" as an "individual, corporation, partnership or other legal entity."
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.
Some individual homes have shared information, particularly those like Pleasant View nursing home in Carroll County, where at least 26 residents have died of COVID-19. Carroll County has released information regarding two facilities with severe outbreaks but declined to name any others. The county would only say it currently has 211 positive cases and 34 deaths associated with long-term care facilities.
Washington, D.C., leaders have been the most transparent. On April 15th, Mayor Muriel Bowser named 11 long-term care facilities in the District with outbreaks. At the time, they accounted for at least 108 positive cases and 9 deaths.
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. The I-Team will be working to confirm and post that updated information here online and in our NBC Washington app.