Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the state Family and Social Services Administration, dodged questions in Indianapolis in mid-June about whether the state would release data on the spread of COVID-19 in individual nursing homes. 
Whitney Downard | CNHI Statehouse Reporter
Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the state Family and Social Services Administration, dodged questions in Indianapolis in mid-June about whether the state would release data on the spread of COVID-19 in individual nursing homes. Whitney Downard | CNHI Statehouse Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS — After resisting calls from the public to identify nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks, Indiana officials announced Wednesday that they will create a public database. 

Hoosiers will be able to determine when COVID-19 cases spread at a facility, how many residents or staffers died, how many residents or staffers recovered and the demographics of those affected. 

Facilities will report on when staffers and residents developed COVID-19 back to March 1, nearly a week before the state confirmed its first case of COVID-19.

However, it isn’t certain when the information will be made public.

"Because our data collection focused up to now on identifying new cases in facilities ... it's going to take some time to build a dashboard that will allow the public to search by facility," said Dan Rusyniak, the chief medical officer of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

"Once we have this information by mid-July, we will make it available in a preliminary form to the public. … But we're also going to use this data to build out a dashboard." 

Rusyniak didn’t specify the differences Wednesday between the “preliminary” form of the database and the final version.

The state had resisted calls, from members of the media, families of residents and advocacy groups such as AARP, to release facility-specific data. State officials had emphasized the importance of communication between facilities and families and denied a public records request for the data, saying it didn’t keep the information “in a collective form.”

Instead, the state has released only aggregate data, which shows that long-term care facilities account for nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths in Indiana. 

"As we have all learned, responding to this pandemic requires us to continually evaluate our approaches and, when appropriate, to change them," Rusyniak said. "This is one of those times."

The Wednesday press conference ended without Rusyniak answering specific questions about the database and whether facilities would be penalized for not reporting.

The database announcement came as Rusyniak said long-term care facilities could reopen for salon care and other personal services.

A state release after the press conference clarified that nursing homes would be reopening to visitors.

"Outdoor visitation is required at assisted-living facilities and nursing homes beginning July 4, and indoor visitation may begin," it read in part.

On March 15, state officials directed long-term care facilities to restrict all visitation following COVID-19 outbreaks in West Coast facilities. 

Indiana was one of the first three states to announce it would loosen nursing home visitation restrictions in early June by allowing outdoor visits. Before fully reopening facilities, Rusyniak urged Hoosiers to continue infection-control practices such as social distancing, washing their hands frequently and wearing a mask.

"If (a carrier visits) a friend or family member who, like over 60,000 Hoosiers, works in a nursing home, they risk causing an outbreak," Rusyniak said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates nursing homes, advised states not to reopen nursing homes unless facilities met requirements including access to adequate testing, mask or face coverings, adequate personal protective equipment for staff and low rates of coronavirus transmission in the community.

In mid-June the state announced it would test every staffer at long-term care facilities for the virus. Rusyniak said the state would partner with the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health to analyze the data. 

"Restricting visitation was a necessary, early step in preventing the spread of COVID-19," Rusyniak said. "It has had a serious impact on the health and well-being of the residents and families who have waited patiently through this pandemic to be rejoined."

 

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