Texas Attorney General rules HHSC should release COVID-19 nursing home data

Nursing Home Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office ruled the Texas Health and Human Services Commission should disclose most of its data on COVID-19 in nursing homes to the public, according to a July 6 ruling.

Paxton’s office rejected most of the arguments the commission made to conceal COVID-19 outbreak data related to nursing homes, according to a news release from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, which has fought for the records. The information that may be released includes the names of specific nursing homes with COVID-19 cases, according to FOIFT and the AG’s ruling.

Simply saying the name and location of nursing homes and long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases doesn’t qualify as individually-identifiable information, so it should be released, the order said.

KXAN News is one of numerous entities that have requested the nursing home data.

Kelley Shannon, the Executive Director at FOIFT, explained most of the people requesting this information were not looking for any personal details or individual health records. She said that the names of facilities with outbreaks could be useful for families looking to place their loved one in a home or for the community surrounding a facility.

“We want the public to be able to access the information that our government is holding for us. That’s how we know how our society is functioning and how our government is behaving,” she said. “Access to information is power. It’s knowledge. It’s the ability for the public to stay engaged with, watch out and watch over their government.”

She went on to note that a facility’s name or location “doesn’t get into who’s sick or how sick they are, or any personal information.”

Any information that could identify an individual resident or patient has to be excluded, but the ruling states that HHSC has “failed to demonstrate the remaining requested information consists of protected health information.”

The Attorney General’s office also stated that their ruling “triggers important deadlines” for HHSC.

When KXAN reached out, HHSC would not provide specifics on when, or how, the information will be released.

“We have received the ruling for this request, and we are working on processing it. We will be in touch as soon as we have an update,” said HHSC spokesperson Kelli Weldon in an email Monday.

You can view an interactive map of states that have already released facility-level COVID-19 nursing home data below.

Though HHSC has not released facility-level information, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has compiled and posted weekly batches of data that show each nursing home’s COVID-19 case count, number of deaths, staffing shortages and information on protective gear. However, the federal data does not provide records before May 24, and many nursing homes have failed to submit information.

HHSC’s records, if they are released, could fill the gaps in CMS’ data. To better inform our viewers, KXAN has independently confirmed cases of the virus at more than two dozen nursing and assisted living facilities in Central Texas. You can view a map of those locations below.

For months the Texas Health & Human Services Commission refused to disclose the number and locations of positive COVID-19 cases among nursing and living facilities. KXAN investigators have verified viewer tips and confirmed whistleblower accounts independently throughout Central Texas. On July 27, HHSC began posting facility-level data; however, KXAN will continue to independently verify and update this map as new outbreaks are brought to our attention.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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