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Indiana State Dept. of Health says it doesn't have records of COVID-19 deaths, cases in nursing homes

State says it does not have to create records to fulfill RTV6’s request for data
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Posted at 3:01 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 15:01:03-04

INDIANAPOLIS — In response to a formal complaint filed by RTV6, the Indiana State Department of Health says it does not have records showing COVID-19 case and death information broken down by nursing home facility.

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,” wrote Kenney 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 aggreggate 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.”

The Indiana Public Access Counselor has not yet issued an advisory opinion on our complaint.

On May 4, the state began requiring nursing home facilities to send emails and voicemail messages to nursing home residents and their families with updates on COVID-19 in their facility.

However, death totals are available upon request.

Many people have contacted Call 6 Investigates with concerns about a lack of information, or conflicting information, provided by their loved one’s nursing home.

RTV6 has spent hours compiling its own database of nursing home cases and deaths so that Hoosiers can have access to at least some information that’s been released by facilities and county health departmetns.

A new federal database isn’t offering much help thus far.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released nursing home death and case information Thursday in an effort to increase transparency as more than 31,782 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 across the country.

Call 6 Investigates did a quick check of the numbers and discovered several discrepancies including numbers way below or above what they should be.

In a call with reporters, CMS officials said differences in numbers could be attributed to the fact that CMS counts nursing home residents who died in a hospital, whereas, other agencies and facilities may not count that as a nursing home death.

Another reason for discrepancies is that the CMS requirement for nursing homes to report COVID-19 death and cases did not take effect until May 8, long after many people died in Indiana nursing homes.

Facilities have the option to report information dating back to January 1, 2020, but it’s not required they include all COVID-19 deaths.

The federal agency provided the following statement to RTV6, in which they acknowledged errors.

“CMS recently implemented an unprecedented requirement that Medicare-certified nursing homes report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as other information related to staffing and supplies through the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) system. As with any new reporting program, there can be data submission errors in the beginning. In an effort to be transparent, CMS made the data collected by the CDC public as quickly as possible balancing transparency and speed against the potential of initial data errors. CMS is advising nursing homes when their submitted data has not passed certain quality checks so they can review the CDC submission instructions and their data submission for accuracy. As CMS continues to analyze the data going forward we expect fewer errors as nursing home staff get used to these requirements and CMS has more time to quality check the data.”

You can see the full list of nursing home COVID-19 data compiled by the RTV6 team in the document below. This list will be continuously updated as new numbers are provided.