Bill requiring public reporting on diseases in nursing homes signed into law

Nursing Home Investigations

Update, May 24: Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law Monday. It goes into effect Sept. 1.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill that would make the number of cases of diseases found in long-term care facilities public was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott May 24, after passing out of the Texas House and Senate earlier this month.

Senate Bill 930, authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), makes public the number of residents diagnosed with a communicable disease at nursing, assisted living and continuing care facilities in the state. The facility names and locations will be public, but personal health information and individual residents’ names would not be released under the law.

Several other similar bills, including House Bill 3306, were filed this legislative session after COVID-19 ravaged senior living facilities across the state for the last year.

“There have been countless news stories dealing with the struggle that families went through in the pandemic and trying to find out if an outbreak of COVID had occurred in a facility that housed their family member,” Middleton said at the hearing for HB 3306. “That tragedy reveals a gap in our transparency laws for these types of facilities.”

KXAN investigator Avery Travis testified on behalf of this bill in the House Human Services Committee, detailing the hundreds of calls and emails the KXAN team received from family members and residents — all concerned about what was happening at their loved ones’ facilities.

  • For an in-depth look at how the pandemic affected nursing home and assisted living facility residents, check out KXAN’s complete coverage here.

According to reports from families and senior care advocates, many of the state’s 1,200 skilled nursing facilities and more than 2,000 assisted living facilities provided basic information — but they were not required to release it.

One family told KXAN it was stressful trying to move their father to a new facility, without knowing about any outbreaks inside. Another family told KXAN they heard one thing from facility administrators and something else from residents and staff about how many cases or deaths had been reported.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released public records detailing outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities, which they regulate in June 2020. However, KXAN investigators discovered CMS’ information was incomplete and only showed cases reported since late May. CMS’ data also did not include information on state-supported living centers or assisted living facilities.

Beginning in the spring of 2020, KXAN, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and numerous other news outlets requested data from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. In July, the Texas Attorney General ruled that information could be made public without violating health privacy laws, and the state began providing data, updated daily.

SB 930 aims to make those types of reports releasable under Texas law moving forward.

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

The legislation joins more than 1,500 bills on Abbott’s desk. As of Friday, he had not vetoed any bill yet this session. The Governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill that arrives at his desk, or it automatically becomes law.

According to the latest state data, Texas has reported 80,938 cases of coronavirus in nursing homes and 10,103 in assisted living facilities. 8,987 people have died from the virus in nursing homes, along with 1,551 people in assisted living.

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