After his administration spent weeks saying that identifying nursing homes with Covid-infected residents would violate privacy laws, Governor Larry Hogan today directed the Maryland Department of Health to start posting such information as soon as possible.
In so doing, Hogan has joined many other states, including New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana, whose health departments already publish this data.
“Keeping Marylanders informed and being transparent with the facts continues to be at the heart of our response to Covid-19,” Hogan said in a press release.
Wall of Secrecy
Maryland has experienced a large number of coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes, including at the Pleasant View home in Mt. Airy, where 26 people have died, and at FutureCare Lochearn, where 170 residents and staff were recently found to be Covid-positive.
But until now, the state has refused to publish Covid data about specific nursing homes, even though it gathers such information on a daily basis.
Hogan did not mention today the privacy concerns that health officials said had blocked them from releasing nursing home data, including provisions in HIPAA, a federal health insurance portability law, and “state laws surrounding confidentiality.”
Until now, the state has refused to publish Covid data about specific nursing homes, even though it gathers such information on a daily basis.
Last week, attorney David Plymyer called the state’s arguments legally and morally wrong in The Brew. “Even assuming that there is ambiguity in the law, there is every reason for state and local authorities to come down on the side of keeping citizens informed,” he wrote.
Hogan couched the new policy as part of his plan to reboot the state economy, saying, “As we plan our recovery, we are taking additional steps to protect our most vulnerable citizens, including older Marylanders.”
On Friday, The Brew reported that FutureCare, the state’s largest nursing home chain, had at least 13 coronavirus-related deaths and more than 250 Covid cases among residents and staff. The information was based on interviews with staff and the families of residents.
Unlike some local nursing homes, FutureCare has refused to release information about Covid infections and fatalities at its facilities – not only to the media, but to the families of residents.
Because of social distancing policies, families can no longer visit their relatives who live in nursing homes.
A number of families told The Brew they are desperate to find out the condition of their loved ones, but have been rebuffed by management.
Valerie Evans said she tried for nearly a week to get information on the condition of her mother, who had tested Covid-positive at FutureCare Lochearn.
The day after a story about her experiences was published in The Brew, her mother died alone in her room at the nursing home.
• To confidentially reach a reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org