Mounting pressure for Virginia to release the names of nursing homes with outbreaks

Coronavirus

The calls are growing louder for Governor Ralph Northam and state health officials to release the names of long-term care facilities with coronavirus outbreaks. 8News has learned state Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) is working on bill that could mean more transparency for families with loved ones in long-term care facilities and it could require a special session from the General Assembly.

The news comes as advocates for seniors press state leaders to start naming the nursing homes with Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths. Elaine Ryan, AARP’s Vice President of State Advocacy says, “We need public disclosure of which facilities have COVID-19. That needs to be made public to all on a regular basis.”

Ryan added that families have a right to know if the long-term care facility their loved one is living in is battling a coronavirus outbreak. Right now, it’s been up to the assisted living facility to decide whether or not it wants to disclose how many Covid-19 cases or deaths the facility has.

The state only shares the number of long-term care outbreaks around Virginia. Last month, 8News filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Virginia Department of Health to release the names of nursing homes with outbreaks. We were told that would violate Virginia Code § 32.1-41 which calls for preserving patient privacy we were also directed to Code § 32.1-3 which identifies a person as a corporation or business.

Virginia’s Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said state health official’s hands are tied. “This is not a decision that was made by the Health Department is something that is incorporated into the Virginia code. Unless the code changes, I don’t see how we can do that,” Dr. Oliver said.

However, Del. Sickles’ bill could change that. We’re told it might be done in a special session depending on the parameters for introducing new legislation. The majority of the coronavirus outbreaks in Virginia are in long-term care facilities.

For more coronavirus coverage, click here.

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