BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Nearly half of the people who have died from COVID-19 in Alabama, died in a long-term care facility, according to data from the Alabama Department of Health (ADPH).
ADPH is refusing to release the names of the facilities where deaths and infections are occurring, citing privacy concerns, but a federal requirement to report this information will make this information public record.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) is requiring nursing homes to report all suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC is then required to post the information online by the end of May.
“We are getting a lot of reports from families who can’t seem to get straight information out of the facility where their loved ones are and that’s very concerning,” said Jamie Harding, Communications Director, AARP Alabama.
The AARP has advocated for more transparency in reporting, and Harding said these additional reporting requirements “are a start, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. The CDC has a lot of lag time in their reporting and this is such an urgent issue, and we have to get these cases under control, these infections under control.”
This is the letter the AARP sent to state leaders including Governor Kay Ivey:
CMS is requiring nursing homes to report, “Suspected and confirmed COVID-19 infections among residents and staff, including residents previously treated for COVID-19, total deaths and COVID-19 deaths among residents and staff, personal protective equipment and hand hygiene supplies in the facility, ventilator capacity and supplies in the facility, resident beds and census, access to COVID-19 testing while the resident is in the facility, staffing shortages, other information specified by the Secretary.”
The first data set was due May 17, and according to the CDC, facilities must submit this data at least every seven days. There is a grace period until May 24, but after that, facilities that do not report will receive a warning letter. Facilities that fail to report beyond that will be fined. CMS will post the data on its website on a weekly basis.
Harding said knowing where the infections are happening and what resources these facilities have is crucial to ensuring residents are properly cared for.
“We really can’t get a handle on these infections and how to get it under control if we don’t have transparency about what is happening in these facilities,” said Harding.
AARP Alabama encourages people concerned about their family members in long-term care facilities to ask the following six questions:
- Has anyone in the nursing home tested positive for COVID-19? (This includes residents as well as staff or other vendors who may have been in the nursing home.)
- What is the nursing home doing to prevent infections? (How are nursing home staff being screened for COVID-19, especially when they leave and re-enter the home? What precautions are in place for residents who are not in private rooms?)
- Does nursing home staff have the personal protective equipment (PPE)—like masks, face shields, gowns, gloves—that they need to stay safe, and keep their patients safe? (Have nursing home staff been given specific training on how to use this personal protective equipment? If no, what is the plan to obtain personal protective equipment?)
- What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their families or other loved ones during this time? (Does the nursing home help residents call their loved ones by phone or video call? Will the nursing home set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved one?)
- What is the plan for the nursing home to communicate important information to both residents and families on a regular basis? (Will the nursing home be contacting you by phone or email, and when?)
- Is the nursing home currently at full staffing levels for nurses, aides, and other workers? (What is the plan to make sure the needs of nursing home residents are met—like bathing, feeding, medication management, social engagement—if the nursing home has staffing shortages?)