Indiana changes course, will release nursing home virus data

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INDIANAPOLIS – After months of pressure from families, lawmakers, advocates and news outlets, Indiana now plans to release facility-level COVID-19 data for their long-term care centers.

Starting in April, state officials refused to release COVID-19 data for each long-term care facility. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said this is a personal thing between the facilities, residents and their families when CBS4 asked her why the state will not release the names.

Governor Eric Holcomb also said he was not going to direct Dr. Box to release the names of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases even though several other states were already releasing this information.

Up until Wednesday’s announcement, Indiana had decided to only publish aggregate totals for cases and deaths in these facilities.

In late April, the state ombudsman for long-term care in Indiana, Lynn Clough, took a different position and told FOX59 those facility names should be revealed.

Clough directs an independent agency in state government dedicated to the protection of residents in Indiana’s long-term care residential facilities, which include nursing facilities and licensed assisted living facilities.

It was a surprise when Dr. Dan Rusyniak, Chief Medical Officer of Indiana FSSA, announced on Wednesday the state would publish facility-level data. A few weeks earlier, the state admitted it did not have a cumulative list of COVID-19 cases and deaths in long term care facilities.

“As we have all learned responding to this pandemic requires us to continually evaluate our approaches and when appropriate to change them,” said Dr. Rusyniak during the Wednesday press conference.

The state said ISDH’s resources until now have been focused on early identification and mitigation of COVID outbreaks in long-term care facilities. This meant focusing its resources on rapid testing and infection response and instructing facilities to communicate directly with residents and their families.

The state said they now have resources available to build out the needed data systems to create a dashboard that will include information by facility.

Dr. Rusyniak said both the largest associations that represent long term care facilities and AARP who advocates for the residents in these facilities recently have expressed their support of providing facility-level information.

More than 40 days before Wednesday’s announcement AARP Indiana sent a letter to the governor urging the state to publish the data.

The state confirms Indiana Health Care Association (IHCA) is one of the organizations that have publicly supported releasing the information. IHCA is the state’s largest trade association representing skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities and independent living.

“We are looking forward to making sure what ends up getting reported publicly is as accurate as possible,” said Zach Cattell, president of IHCA.

Cattell hopes this dashboard will illustrate what has happened and show the more than 2,000 people who have recovered. He emphasized the importance of transparency to ensure trust exists with the public and the health care sector.

“The concern that has come from the public and from the media needs to be answered and we need to move on beyond the drumbeat of that particular question because we really need to be focusing on the help long term care facilities need and their residents need to fight COVID-19 and focus on the bigger picture,” he said.

As of Monday, more than 45 percent of COVID-19 deaths statewide were linked to Indiana’s long-term care facilities. The state plans to create a dashboard to show when cases occurred, the number of residents and staff who have died and the number of people who have recovered at each facility.

The state expects to post preliminary data in mid-July and the dashboard will come two to four weeks after the release of that information.

“To have those tools available to everybody, not just a family member of a resident already there, but to anybody out there looking I think that’s an absolutely wonderful thing. And it’s about time,” said Sarah Troutman, a daughter of a nursing home resident.

Troutman’s father lives at Bethany Pointe in Anderson. More than 30 COVID-19 related deaths have happened there. Troutman said at first, it was difficult to get information about cases inside. Now the company that operates that facility, Trilogy Health Services, posts updates on a dashboard online.

“I think it still comes down to everyday people are still looking for facilities to put their loved ones in. Just because coronavirus is out there doesn’t mean people their family members are not failing in their health and needing extra care,” she said.

Troutman is relieved all families can get this information a little easier soon. She is still questioning why the state is deciding to publish the data now after months of saying no.

“I think enough pressure from families and the media. I think eventually they probably figured none of us were going to go away,” Troutman said.

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