HHSC finally releases detailed COVID-19 nursing home data

Investigations

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that 1,800 more cases with infections are reported in Texas with the state data than under the federal data.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After refusing to release the names of senior facilities with cases of COVID-19 for the past four months, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has publicly released that data on nursing homes, assisted living facilities and state supported living centers.

HHSC initially said the information was protected by health privacy laws, but a ruling by the Attorney General’s Office on July 6 said the agency should disclose it.

The state has released broad totals of cases at long-term care facilities, and you can see that information here.

The sought-after data offers perhaps the most comprehensive look at COVID-19 cases in Texas’ long-term care facilities. Nursing homes have been slammed by the virus, and deaths in those facilities have accounted for more than a third of the state’s total fatalities from the virus.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released similar records in June, but CMS’ information is incomplete and only shows cases reported since late May. CMS’ data also did not include information on state supported living centers or assisted living facilities.

KXAN, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and numerous news outlets requested the long-term care facility data.

The latest data shows five facilities have had more than 100 resident cases, including 157 residents infected at River City Care Center in San Antonio.

In the Austin area, West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center had 79 resident cases and 22 deaths. Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation had resident 69 cases and 14 deaths.

The data is self-reported by facilities to HHSC.

KXAN will post more information on the data as it is gathered.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett said these details should have been public months ago.

“I’m appreciative of you and KXAN never giving up on getting this data. It was an entirely phony excuse using patient privacy to prevent the residents, their families, staff members, neighbors, all of us in public policy who need this data to effectively do our jobs — all were denied by secrecy, and now that is open to the public.”

Doggett chairs the Health Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. He’s been critical of the Trump Administration’s response to the crisis in nursing homes, as well as the way the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) collected and released data at the federal level.

“I hope that the state will be consistent in the way it maintains the data and will promptly release the data, so that we don’t go through what we’ve had over previous months,” he said. “The federal data, for one thing, they didn’t begin reporting on it until the middle of May. There are about 1,800 more cases with infections in Texas with the state data than under the federal data.”

He did note that CMS announced a new weekly staff testing requirement for nursing homes in states with a 5% positivity rate and vowed to send thousands of test kits to these homes to enable this testing.

The CMS memo reads, “More than 15,000 testing devices will be deployed over the next few months to help support this mandate, with over 600 devices shipping this week. Funds from the Provider Relief Fund can also be used to pay for additional testing of visitors.”

The CMS memo also explained U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will devote $5 billion of the Provider Relief Fund, authorized by the CARES Act, to Medicare-certified long term care facilities.

It reads, “This funding could be used to address critical needs in nursing homes including hiring additional staff, implementing infection control “mentorship” programs with subject matter experts, increasing testing, and providing additional services, such as technology so residents can connect with their families if they are not able to visit.”

Doggett said his subcommittee plans to hold the agency accountable on these measures.

He added, “the impact has been severe, given the loss of life. Over 50,000 Americans lost.”

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