A pair of U.S. senators this week demanded that federal officials release a public list of all the nursing homes that have reported positive COVID-19 cases, arguing that the information is vital to preventing the spread of the virus.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma pegged the number of facilities with at least one coronavirus positive at 146, across 27 states, on a March 23 call with the press.
That number grew to more than 400 as of March 31, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Sens. Bob Casey and Ron Wyden mentioned those figures in their April 2 letter to Verma and CDC director Robert Redfield, telling the leaders that they’re “alarmed” by the fact that the agencies are tracking the number of cases without releasing a full list to the public.
“At a time when this information could be vital to the health and safety of Americans, it is imperative that the list of facilities with a COVID-19 case, among residents and staff, be made public and shared with relevant health care providers, authorities, and Congress on a real-time basis,” Casey and Wyden — a pair of Democrats from Pennsylvania and Oregon, respectively — wrote.
The list should be in a format “accessible to nursing home residents, families, and the community,” the senators argued, and come with resources for people affected by the coronavirus.
Casey and Wyden framed the open disclosure of individual facility names as essential for public health both inside and outside nursing homes, noting that 28 firefighters were forced into quarantine after responding to the outbreak at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a notable early case in Washington state.
“While the privacy of individual residents must be protected, is imperative that the names of the facilities with a positive COVID-19 case be made available to help prevent further spread of this terrible virus,” the pair wrote.
In addition to public information, the senators also want CMS and the CDC to disclose to Congress and other health officials the number of people in each facility that have tested positive for COVID-19 and the dates on which they were tested, as well as a lists of people and entities who have access to each facility with a confirmed positive case.
On top of providing data around individual facilities, the senators asked Verma and Redfield to provide a host of other information “about what the administration is doing to ensure that residents, families, and health professionals have the information they need to remain safe and healthy.”
Those requests include an accounting of how CMS plans to use increased survey and certification funding the agency received as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, as well as reporting requirements for operators and local authorities when people test positive for COVID-19 in the nursing home setting.
Casey and Wyden gave CMS and the CDC a deadline of April 16.
“We stand ready to help nursing homes and the residents who call those facilities their home overcome this crisis,” the senators concluded.