Giving state and federal privacy laws as the reason, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has been releasing only the number of senior care facilities that were reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and the total number of residents who have died.
The commission’s reasoning makes little sense. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — widely known as HIPAA — was designed to protect the privacy of individuals, not institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and wellbeing,” according to the agency’s website. “The Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information, while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing.”
In Texas, the reporting often has been hit or miss. Whereas the state refused to release the information on specific facilities, many health districts — and some senior care centers — released the information.
Information about the extent of infections in senior care facilities, not just in Texas but nationwide, should be widely and consistently available because families have a right to know the health risks at facilities where their elderly relatives live.
State Sen. Todd Hunter said he would file legislation allowing public access to information about disease transmission and mortality rates in health care facilities.
He said the information would not be patient specific, but it would be facility specific.
We think it is needed legislation to clear up what should happen on the state level.
On the national level, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency that regulates nursing homes, just recently began reporting the first nationwide snapshot of how each facility is coping with a disease that is particularly dangerous for elderly residents.
The lack of, or slow, reporting at the state and federal levels about the pandemic’s effect on individual senior care facilities hasn’t been fair to the residents or their families.
• Dave Mathews