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.
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