INDIANAPOLIS— Families, advocates and state lawmakers are applauding the state’s sudden decision to publish COVID-19 deaths and cases specific to each nursing home in Indiana.
But they want to make sure the information informs and educates the public rather than create confusion or panic.
Call 6 Investigates has been asking since mid-April for data showing where people have gotten sick or have died in Indiana nursing homes.
The state has denied our repeated requested citing privacy concerns, and even told us they don’t have the information in a document.
Wednesday, the Holcomb administration changed its stance.
"We are going to report facility specific COVID-19 data,” said Dr. Dan Rusyniak, Chief Medical Officer for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. “So why are we doing this now? We stated from the beginning, have been focused on early identification and mitigation of COVID outbreaks in long term care facilities and in the beginning, we focused on testing and infection response, and we’ve focused on getting the information necessary to families and their representatives.”
This apparent change of heart is encouraging to people like David Johnson of Indianapolis.
"I'm really happy the state has decided to reverse course,” said Johnson.
His loved one died at an Indiana nursing home in April, and even though the facility chose to publish COVID-19 information on its website, Johnson said it’s data everyone should get to see.
"It's transparency families appreciate but also the communities where these nursing centers exist,” said Johnson. “I think we really do deserve that kind of data. Why the state took 4 months to come to a reasonable decision is a little bit strange."
Dr. Dan Rusyniak credited groups like AARP Indiana and associations representing nursing homes and their support in making the change.
“As we have learned from this pandemic it requires us to continually evaluate our approaches and to change them,” said Dr. Rusyniak. “This is one of those times.”
AARP Indiana director Sarah Waddle wasn’t expecting Wednesday’s announcement, even though they’ve spent months pushing for the state to publish the information.
"We were just as surprised as everyone but it was definitely welcomed information, information that we have been waiting for and have deserved for a long time," said Waddle. “We can learn from those facilities that have had a significant impact and what they're doing better now and what has helped and I hope we can use this data to tell the story and learn from it."
The new dashboard will be released later this summer and will contain data for nursing home residents and employees, demographics for those who had COVID-19, and the number of recoveries.
AARP and lawmakers like Rep. Ed Delaney hope the data will show exactly when deaths and cases happened.
"If I’m a family member with a loved one in a nursing home, I need to understand is this something that happened 90 days ago or whether it's ongoing,” said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. “The data has to be put together in a way that doesn't mislead the public but informs them. What we’ve done until now is hide the information and now the risk is we will mislead the public because we hid it."
Delaney and other lawmakers will be closely monitoring the new nursing home dashboard once it’s published.
Delaney and Senate Democrats, including Sen. Jean Breaux, have been outspoken about the need for this data to be made available to the public.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction, and I thank the governor for listening to advocates, the media and my own caucus when we asked for transparency,” said Breaux. “I believe that this information will help families make informed decisions for their loved ones going forward. Hoosier families have needed this data for a while now, so my hope is that this dashboard becomes available very soon.”
Call 6 Investigates requested a one-on-one with Governor Eric Holcomb, and we were told he is unavailable.
STATEMENT FROM INDIANA HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION AND INDIANA CENTER FOR ASSISTED LIVING
“While long term care facilities have been regularly communicating their COVID-19 data to residents, resident representatives, and the Indiana State Department of Health, and nursing facilities have also been reporting that data to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, we support the state’s effort that will bring additional transparency for all stakeholders.”
“Data reporting can be a burden, particularly in the middle of a pandemic and with brand new reporting tools. However, we know this is important for our residents, their families, and the public, and are committed to serving them. In this next effort, we hope a streamlined and efficient data reporting process will be developed.”
“We’re also encouraged that the state’s data dashboard will include COVID-19 resident recovery data and other information that shows how facilities have recovered from outbreaks. This dashboard should help provide a more accurate picture of the amazing work Indiana’s long term care professionals have done. We’re constantly awed by the dedication of our frontline caregivers - it is because of their tireless efforts that thousands of residents have recovered from COVID-19, and continue to recover, and several hundred facilities are COVID-19 free in Indiana.”
“We sincerely appreciate Governor Eric Holcomb’s leadership and his administration’s consistent efforts to engage our professionals throughout this pandemic, and look forward to continued collaboration.”
FULL STATEMENT FROM SEN. JEAN BREAUX, (D) INDIANAPOLIS
"This is definitely a step in the right direction, and I thank the governor for listening to advocates, the media and my own caucus when we asked for transparency. I believe that this information will help families make informed decisions for their loved ones going forward. "It's true that I'm disappointed that this information was never available from the beginning of this pandemic. Hoosier families have needed this data for a while now, so my hope is that this dashboard becomes available very soon.”