Are long-term care facilities required to publicly announce coronavirus cases?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. –  As the mounting coronavirus death toll in nursing homes nationwide continues to rise, 10,000 patients have now lost their lives inside long term care facilities across the country.

And here at home, ABC57news has confirmed multiple outbreaks.

In South Bend alone emails obtained by ABC57 identify four different facilities, including the latest Healthwin Skilled Nursing Facility on Darden road, Trailpoint Village on East Ridgedale Road, the convent at Saint Mary's on Notre Dame’s campus and Cardinal Nursing and Rehabilitation where they have 61 COVID-19 cases and 3 patients have died.

But why haven’t we heard about this from Cardinal officials?

New guidance from the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or CMS will require nursing homes to communicate with patients and their designated family member or doctor, but they still are not mandating any kind of public notification to the media or other families considering a nursing home for their loved ones.

So although federally funded long-term care facilities are now required to report any coronavirus cases to local and state health departments as well as residents and their family members – that doesn’t mean they have to announce it publicly.

In fact, in both Indiana and Michigan there is no law requiring long-term care facilities like cardinal to notify the public.

On the state level Kristina Box, the Indiana State Health Commissioner won’t release names either, just saying they are urging the facilities to be more open with families.

”We have shared that guidelines with all licensed long-term care facilities across the state. We’re also working with the division of aging, at FSSA to create guidance for long-term care facilities to follow regarding these communications,” Dr. Box said.

We’ve also reached out to the Cardinal’s media representative multiple times, but they would not directly answer any of our questions.

With dozens of coronavirus cases coming from Cardinal – it brings into question transparency. Why haven’t we heard anything? Especially since just across state lines in Michigan, the Berrien County Health Department has been very forward in announcing any outbreaks there.

Although federally funded long-term care facilities are now required to report any coronavirus cases to local and state health departments as well as residents and their family members – that doesn’t mean they have to announce it publicly.

And in both Indiana and Michigan, there is no law requiring it.

“Of the 1,568 cases in long-term care facilities I announced, 993 involved residents and 575 were staff,” Dr. Box said.

Dr. Box has notified the public of the over a thousand coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities, however, when asked what facilities these cases are at – there is no response.

That goes for Michigan as well.

However, health officials there have been more transparent on this front, confirming the prevalence of the coronavirus in several long-term care facilities like Pine Ridge Rehab and Nursing Center in Stevensville as well as Hallmark Living in Benton Harbor that now has 10 residents and 9 staff members test positive and 4 of the residents there have died so far.

“Most facilities that we work with are very transparent with the families of residents that they serve and are usually doing that notification already,” Gillian Conrad, the Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department said. “They are not however required to do any public notification. So that’s why during the COVID-19 pandemic the health department is working closely with all of the nursing homes, long-term care facilities in Berrien County to make sure that if there is a need for public information, notification that we can assist them in that.”

Berrien County health officials have been more transparent about the most affected facility and how many cases are inside. In St. Joseph county – not so much.

When we repeatedly requested a statement from Cardinal Nursing and Rehabilitation, on the outbreak there, they would not confirm any details and this is what they sent.

“The health and wellness of our residents and employees remain the top priority. We are in close contact with local and state health authorities and following their guidance along with national and CDC recommendations and mandates. American Senior Communities continue to follow stringent preventative measures proactively put in place,” The media representative at American Senior Communities who owns Cardinal said.

However, in Berrien County, health officials say transparency is one of their top priorities.

“One of the best interventions that we have right now against COVID-19 is clear, factual information,” Conrad said. “We want to make sure our community can access the information they need. That they can find the answers to their questions and that they can ultimately make those decisions that impact their health and the health of their family.”

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