Rusyniak

Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the state Family and Social Services Administration, dodged questions in Indianapolis in mid-June about whether the state would release data on the spread of COVID-19 in individual nursing homes.

INDIANAPOLIS — While a growing number of states are releasing the names of senior care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks, Indiana continues to shield that information from the public.

Public pressure in recent weeks resulted in four more states identifying the facilities. Now at least 30 states are providing a detailed accounting. Indiana, though, continues to resist calls from consumer advocates, public officials and nursing home officials for posting the information.

“We still believe that (facility to family communication) is the most important communication that occurs,” Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer of the state Family and Social Services Administration, said Friday.

Rusyniak pointed out that the state requires facilities to communicate with families of residents daily and report facility outbreaks. But the state dashboard displays only aggregate data, reporting the number of facilities with cases but not naming the facilities or showing their location.

Rusyniak didn’t answer whether the state was rethinking its approach to providing the information, considering the flawed data release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week. The federal agency released facility-level data, but homes nationwide complained about multiple data errors and a cumbersome collection system.

A CNHI News Indiana story looked at the data from CMS and found that Hoosier families still don’t have a clear idea about the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. Without clear, comprehensive data from the state or federal government, families cannot compare their loved one’s facility with others to assess the spread of the virus among the state’s most vulnerable population.

Rusyniak said Wednesday the state looks at facility data every two weeks to determine whether its strike team needs to respond to an outbreak.

“So we have chunks of time (where) we don’t have a cumulative list of every facility, all of their cases and all of their deaths,” Rusyniak said.

Each state has its own approach to reporting COVID-19 cases in nursing homes, AARP has noted. Some states post only a list of facilities with cases or deaths but not specific numbers, while other states include those details. At least four states don’t report any information about COVID-19 in nursing homes.

AARP lists 26 states and the District of Columbia as posting some sort of information naming specific nursing homes, but the organization’s website doesn’t include at least four states that recently changed their release policies: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Idaho and Minnesota.

Some nursing homes are releasing their own numbers. One of Indiana’s largest operators, American Senior Communities posts its data on webpages unique to each facility. Trilogy Health Services reports all 26 of its facilities on one page: www.trilogyhs.com/covid-19.

Even as Rusyniak dodged questions about releasing the data Friday, state Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, emailed a statement calling for reports on COVID-19 cases and deaths at individual nursing homes to be made public.

“Data with names and locations of facilities has been requested by state lawmakers, media, and families and individuals desperately looking for answers about the size and scope of outbreaks,” DeLaney said. “The public needs to be able to assess whether or not they believe care facilities and state regulators are doing enough to protect our most vulnerable Hoosiers.”

DeLaney also cited a formal complaint with Indiana’s Public Access Counselor filed by media outlets for the information’s release. The Department of Health told the Public Access Counselor that the facility-level records didn’t exist “in a collective form.”

The Department of Health “acknowledges that it is collecting case and death information from each nursing home to determine outbreaks,” DeLaney said. “However, (they) claim not to be tallying the data.”

This story was produced with the support of the Investigative Editing Corps, https://www.investigativeediting.org/

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