3 bills could ensure public access to infection cases in Texas long-term care facilities

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Three bills filed in March could ensure public access to the numbers of disease cases in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.

The bills follow a months-long period in 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, when state health officials refused to release COVID-19 case counts in those facilities.

The three similar bills include SB 882 filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, SB 930 authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and HB 3306 drafted by Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville.

The bills would require public disclosure of “the name or location of a facility in which residents have been diagnosed with a communicable disease; or number of residents who have been diagnosed with a communicable disease in a facility,” according to the legislation.

Nursing, continuing care and assisted living facilities would be subject to the disclosure rule, according to the bills.

“Nursing homes and assisted living facilities experienced deadly COVID-19 outbreaks. When concerned family members, desperate for information, attempted to learn if their loved ones were safe, they were denied by nursing home staff who claimed that information was confidential,” said Zaffirini in a statement.

Zaffirini’s legislation would make the information public and “available to requestors via the Texas Public Information Act,” she said.

“Never again will our families be left in the dark as to the health and safety of their loved ones,” Zaffirini added.

KXAN fought for months to obtain that type of facility-level data from the state in the early months of the pandemic, as COVID-19 ravaged nursing homes in Texas and killed thousands.

Following a ruling from the Office of Attorney General, HHSC released its counts of COVID-19 cases and deaths in each Texas facility in July. That was about a month after the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released similar information.

When both the federal and state facility-level data became available, there were clear differences and discrepancies between the datasets. Total numbers of cases and deaths in some facilities remains unclear.

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