The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said it will begin releasing information about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on nursing homes throughout the state after facing criticism from Republican lawmakers for withholding the information.
Health officials said earlier this week that they would not disclose the names or locations of long-term care facilities where residents or staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in order to protect patient privacy. But by Thursday afternoon they had changed their minds and said they will begin releasing the information as early as Friday.
“With the current level of concern and the risk associated with COVID-19 we believe it is important to balance that value with the equally legitimate value of government transparency and of sharing information with the public to help them understand the course of the outbreak” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a Thursday press conference.
“To that end, we’ve decided to update our approach and to share more information about the outbreak in long-term care facilities,” she added.
The announcement comes after state Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point) said the MDH’s decision to withhold information “only brings unnecessary grief and frustration to many Minnesota families.”
Housley said she thinks that the information can be released “in a way that protects an individual’s right to privacy.”
“I am uncomfortable with state officials withholding the names and locations of long-term care facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19,” she said in a statement. “Therefore, I am asking Governor Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health to immediately disclose the names and locations of long-term care facilities where a resident or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19 – and that this remain the administration’s policy moving forward.”
Housley, chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, said other states like Colorado and Oregon are releasing this information. One nursing home in Tennessee was hit so hard by the virus that it had to transfer all of its residents to a local hospital while it conducted a facility-wide cleaning.
As of Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health was releasing information on the total number of positive cases, tests completed, fatalities, hospitalizations, and recoveries. The agency is also providing information on the age and gender of patients, the likely source of exposure to the virus, and the number of cases by county.
“As Minnesotans confront a new reality, access to information is critical as we make decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. We must make full disclosure the standard in Minnesota,” said Housley. “Withholding this information only brings unnecessary grief and frustration to many Minnesota families. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, transparency has arguably never been more important.”
Minnesota now has 742 positive COVID-19 cases, 138 hospitalizations, and 18 deaths.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Freeman Office Building” by Tony Webster. CC BY 2.0.