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Tennessee to disclose COVID-19 case, death counts in nursing homes

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Posted at 11:35 AM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 19:24:14-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee will begin disclosing more information about COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the state health commissioner announced.

Those disclosures, which will begin this week, comes after days of questioning by NewsChannel 5 Investigates about why Gov. Bill Lee and his administration were not being more transparent.

"We will now start reporting the number of cases and the number of deaths combined for residents and staff in each of those facilities," Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Monday during the governor's afternoon COVID-19 briefing.

It also came a day after federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published new guidance indicating that it was developing rules to require nursing homes to report outbreaks in their facilities and to notify families.

Faced with questions from NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Piercey had said Thursday that her agency was working through potential legal concerns about making such information public.

“We’re continuing to work on what we can release, and I’m hopeful to have additional data points for you in the next few days,” Piercey promised.

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Under the proposed federal rules, nursing homes must inform residents and families within 12 hours of the occurrence of a single confirmed infection of COVID-19.

Notification would also be required within 72 hours after three or more residents or staff develop respiratory symptoms.

Failure to make such reports could result in an enforcement action, the agency said.

Some states, such as Georgia, are already publicly disclosing a list of long-term care facilities with one or more confirmed COVID-19 cases. Georgia also lists the number of deaths.

The Tennessee Department of Health had claimed that it was reluctant to be as transparent because of concerns about potentially violating federal privacy rules established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

But Signature HealthCARE, which operates facilities in Tennessee and nine other states, has proactively released that information for its facilities in Nashville’s Bordeaux community and in Putnam County.

The Murfreesboro-based National Healthcare Corp. (NHC), on the other hand, will only disclose the number of active cases in its facilities.

NHC refused to release the number of residents who have been transferred to hospitals or who have died as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks.