INDIANAPOLIS— More than 1,220 people have now died from COVID-19 at 180 different long-term care facilities in Indiana.
Nursing homes make up nearly half of all the coronavirus deaths in Indiana, yet comprise only 12 percent of all the COVID-19 cases in our state.
The State Department of Health is expected to soon release where those deaths and cases have happened in Indiana nursing homes dating back to March 1.
But one lawmaker says more needs to be done to protect the public’s right to know about COVID-19’s impact on nursing home residents and employees.
The state agreed to create a dashboard on July 1, months after Call 6 Investigates and state lawmakers began fighting for the release of nursing home data broken down by facility.
By the time the state publishes the data specific to individual nursing homes, Indiana will be five months into this pandemic.
Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, wants to make sure these types of delays never happen again.
"We shouldn't have to fight for this,” said Breaux. "There needs to be something that shows there's a more standardized process that occurs naturally and that type of information is collected, is compiled and released regularly to families."
Breaux said she plans to file legislation to make sure it’s clear the state is required to make nursing home deaths and cases, broken down by facility, available to the public.
"I think legislation is a critical piece of this,” said Breaux. "There needs to be some uniformity. So, there's a central place where you can go for this information and it's been verified as accurate."
Other states have stopped reporting data because their state’s executive orders have expired.
Breaux wants to make sure Indiana keeps reporting COVID-19 deaths and cases, for this pandemic and for other public health crises.
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"It's just not something we can relent upon,” said Breaux. “We have to stay relentless."
The state has denied multiple public records requests seeking the information, citing privacy reasons, although RTV6 has never asked for any information on specific patients.
“ISDH is providing aggregate totals at this time and is not breaking down cases by facility due to privacy reasons,” the Joint Information Center said in an April 24 email response to RTV6.
Call 6 Investigates' Kara Kenney filed a formal complaint with Indiana Public Access Counselor on May 4 seeking where people have died in Indiana nursing homes, and how many cases of COVID-19 each facility has.
“We believe the public and taxpayers deserve to know this information as soon as possible,” Kenney wrote in the formal complaint.
In a written response to the Public Access Counselor provided to RTV6 Tuesday, an attorney for the Indiana State Department of Health said the agency emphasized it is providing only aggregate totals, which only show the overall number of people who have died at Indiana nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
“In sum, ISDH does not have the records requested,” read ISDH’s response. “Moreover, Indiana law does not require ISDH to create records to fulfill these requests.”
Senator Jean Breaux credited Call 6 Investigates for the state changing its tune and releasing the information to the public.
“Thank you, Kara, for shedding a spotlight on this,” Breaux said. “We can’t do it without the help of the media.”
The state is now gathering the data and its new nursing home dashboard will be posted later this summer.
Indiana has also tested more than 40,000 nursing home employees for COVID-19 at 480 facilities.
They will now work with the Regenstrief Institute to analyze the data to figure out who needs testing moving forward and how often.