House Speaker Bonnen: We need ‘greater transparency’ in nursing home COVID-19 information

Investigations
Dennis Bonnen

AUSTIN (KXAN) – House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, in a Thursday interview with KXAN, said there needs to be more transparency in the reporting of COVID-19 cases at Texas nursing homes.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said the state has done a good job of slowing the progress of the virus, “but our nursing homes have been hot spots and those are our number-one priority and our number-one concern.”

Bonnen’s comments came in response to KXAN’s Wes Rapaport asking if the state could do more in informing the public about cases of COVID-19 in nursing homes. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is most deadly for the elderly and people with existing medical conditions. It has killed at least 231 people in nursing homes in this year, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“We need to be informing those families. We need to be informing those communities when there is an outbreak in those nursing homes,” Bonnen said. “You have to be very careful with privacy, and protect that, but there is absolutely a way to inform people without going beyond someone’s personal health privacy.”

Bonnen said the state has been working closely with nursing home companies. Many nursing homes are privately operated and, though the state has regulatory authority, the private company makes decisions on releasing information, he said.

“I feel strongly that there needs to be greater transparency. There is no reason that we can’t inform people sooner. Not specifically who may have contracted the virus, but that the virus has been found and is a positive in that nursing home. There is no reason that you cannot do that,” Bonnen said. “The sooner that that is done, and the sooner we are informing families that are having loved ones in the nursing home, the better we can slow that spread and react.”

KXAN has requested the names of long-term care facilities with reported cases of COVID-19, but HHSC will not release that information. HHSC has cited health privacy statutes and says it is prohibited by law from releasing the names of facilities with positive cases.

Legal experts on the subject have argued the statutes cited by HHSC do not apply to releasing the names of facilities, and that information would not identify specific people. At least nine other states have posted lists of specific nursing facilities with positive cases. Though it does not provide specific locations, HHSC does regularly give broad numbers of cases in long-term care facilities. The following data was provided April 27:

Texas Nursing Homes

  • 282 with at least one case
  • 23.1% of all sites statewide
  • 231 deaths statewide

Texas Assisted Living Facilities

  • 85 with at least one case
  • 4.2% of all sites statewide
  • 59 deaths statewide

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