Several Virginia legislators are calling for the release of information regarding specific long-term care facilities, saying the public has a right to know how many residents and staff have tested positive or died at each location.
The Virginia Department of Health is compiling that information but withholding it from public release, citing wording in a state law that has been deemed to prohibit that release. Several legislators have questioned that interpretation but say even if the state won't share the data, the individual facilities should.
"In a situation like this, transparency is very important," said Del. Patrick Hope, D-47th District, of Arlington.
Hope said it's unacceptable for homes that care for our elderly loved ones to keep secret the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among their residents and staff.
Data released by the Virginia Department of Health Tuesday shows 143 of the state's long-term care facilities are dealing with outbreaks. Just over half of those, 72 outbreaks, are at facilities in Northern Virginia, with 40 infected facilities in the Fairfax Health District alone. The Loudoun Health District reports 10 outbreaks, Alexandria has eight, and Arlington and Prince William have each reported seven outbreaks at long-term care facilities.
"If we believe that that's really ground zero for the majority of the outbreaks happening, that's where we've got to take this fight," Hope said.
According to state-released data, more than half of the state's 713 COVID-19 deaths were associated with long-term care facilities.
The News4 I-team has spent weeks working to compile details regarding the outbreaks at Virginia's long-term care facilities, utilizing crowd-sourced information from viewers who have loved ones at those facilities.
Coronavirus Cases & Deaths in Long-Term Care Facilities
COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities in D.C. and Maryland.
Several homes have been transparent, releasing information to residents' families and the public. Others have refused to confirm any specific information the I-Team requested.
Washington, D.C., leaders began releasing facility-specific information in mid-April. Maryland followed suit last week when Gov. Larry Hogan reversed an initial state health department decision to withhold facility-specific information.
"I've always found that the more information you put out, the less misbehavior you get- and the better people's actions are if they know what's going on," said State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th District, of Mt. Vernon.
Surovell said all Virginia families should be able to confirm whether a facility has an outbreak before their own loved one is gravely ill. He's hoping a new plan for the federal government to begin publicly posting information the facilities share with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention happens quickly.
“I think people could have a lot more trust and confidence in what the government was putting out, the decisions we're making about these issues,” said Surovell.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) confirms it plans to release facility-specific data about positive cases and deaths that nursing homes have reported to the CDC, per a new requirement. CMS hopes to begin those weekly posts in the coming weeks.
Since assisted living facilities are regulated at the state level, they will not be included in the data CMS releases publicly.
Del. Hope is drafting legislation to try to change Virginia law to require the state health department to disclose the data from all facilities, but the earliest that could happen would be an emergency legislative session this summer.
"If the code is written inappropriately, then we need to come in and fix it," Hope said. "In the meantime, I'd like to see these facilities self-disclose to let the public know exactly what's going on in the facilities. And let's get the support that they need to stop the spread."
To continue to help the News4 I-Team fill in the gaps regarding Virginia long-term care facilities, email details to tips@ news4iteam.com if you have a loved one getting firsthand information about the number of cases or deaths in a specific location.