These are uncertain times for Hoosiers, full of decisions that could mean the difference between staying safe or contracting and spreading the deadly coronavirus.
Hoosier seniors are particularly susceptible to ill effects of the disease, causing them and their families heightened anxiety.
So, you’d think the state would do whatever it could to assure that seniors and their families have the very best, most complete information about the spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
But Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has chosen to withhold statistics from the public related to COVID-19 cases and deaths in individual facilities, reasoning that it’s not the government’s responsibility to release such information about private businesses.
Holcomb not only misses the overarching concerns of the public, but he also misrepresents the ownership of nursing homes. In Indiana, about 90% are owned by county hospitals, which are units of government. Also, hospitals across the state rake in billions of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare payments from the government annually.
The Indiana State Department of Health provides weekly updates about aggregate statewide confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Indiana’s long-term care facilities, a category that includes nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living and residential facilities.
Monday’s health department report showed 1,082 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths — 2,289 as reported Wednesday — had occurred in long-term care facilities. That’s nearly 50%, illustrating that Indiana nursing homes are especially susceptible to the virus and highlighting the need for public disclosure of cases in individual facilities.
The list of states releasing such statistics has grown to 30 as the importance of full disclosure dawns on state officials across the country.
Yet, Gov. Holcomb has dug in his heels and refused to budge, instead citing a state directive that each long-term care facility inform designated family members about COVID-19 cases. But some Hoosiers have complained that nursing homes, even when asked directly, won’t willingly divulge the statistics.
Holcomb’s position is both a disservice to Hoosiers and a signal that government is bowing to the business interests of nursing homes.
The governor, himself, has benefited from the industry. Since 2016, nursing home operators have donated at least $100,000 to his campaign, including his joint fundraising committee with the state Republican Party.
It’s high time that Holcomb, for the good of Hoosier seniors and their families, corrected this problem. He should direct the state health department to report regularly on COVID-19 cases and deaths at each of Indiana’s 500-plus long-term care facilities.