State Rep. Mayes Middleton was honored Tuesday with an award from the Texas Press Association for his work improving transparency at senior-care facilities.
Middleton was the House sponsor, and a champion of, Senate Bill 930, which became law Sept. 1.
The bill changed state law to make clear the name and location of a nursing home or similar facility in which residents have been diagnosed with a communicable disease and the number of residents diagnosed are not confidential.
It means nursing homes and similar facilities have less room to withhold information about disease outbreaks from families, advocates and journalists, Middleton said.
“After what people had to go through in the pandemic, where they couldn’t go see their loved ones and had the anxiety and fear of not knowing if there was an outbreak — it was not right,” Middleton said. “I’m not saying every facility did wrong, but we always legislate for the worst actors.”
He called access to information spelled out in the bill a “basic human right.”
Middleton crafted and introduced a nearly identical bill in the House of Representatives. The legislation was inspired by a conversation with Daily News Publisher Leonard Woolsey, who expressed his own frustration about getting information about a family member from a nursing facility in the early months of the pandemic.
“When you’re dealing with rumor and innuendo and you’re dealing with a public health crisis, the best thing you can do is be transparent,” Woolsey said.
The bill passed into law with bipartisan support.
The press association, a trade group that advocates for 429 newspapers, testified in favor of the bill and said it would benefit the public by making more information more readily available.
“At the height of the pandemic we were hearing a growing number of stories of how Texas citizens were denied access to information at facilities that provided care for their loved ones,” said Michael Hodges, the president of the association.
“Families needed that information to make informed decisions about their relatives, and at the same time newspaper journalists needed the information to provide thorough coverage of the situation in their communities. I am grateful to Rep. Middleton for taking prompt corrective action.”
Middleton has represented Texas House District 23 since 2018. His district includes Galveston, Texas City, La Marque and Bolivar Peninsula.