The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has released the names of state nursing homes with an active COVID-19 public health investigation. That means at least one resident or staff member has recently tested positive for the coronavirus. One case prompts an "outbreak" designation and a review of the whole facility.
A disability rights group says it wishes the Evers administration would release more data.
Some patient advocates thought DHS would hold a news conference Wednesday to announce the nursing home names. But that didn't happen. On Tuesday, DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk told reporters why the state is distributing the data that some families, barred from the nursing homes to reduce the spread of COVID-19, have been seeking.
"We are at unprecedented times, where family members do not have the ability to go in and see their loved one in a nursing home, for their own protection. And so, we are working to increase transparency of where there may be disease," Willems Van Dijk said. "In most cases, family members are going to already know this because the nursing home has already contacted them."
The state has been reporting the number of COVID-19-related deaths at long-term care facilities like nursing homes, assisted living facilities and residential care apartments. Currently, the total is more than 175, or 43% of all COVID-19 deaths in Wisconsin.
The new figures show there have been 46 public health investigations at nursing homes — 38 are still active. The names of the individual facilities are on the DHS website. By WUWM’s count, about two dozen of the active probes are at homes in southeastern Wisconsin. They're taking place at sites in Milwaukee, its suburbs, and in smaller cities.
Attorney Mitchell Hagopian has been following the issue for Disability Rights Wisconsin. He says the state's figures are helpful but insufficient because they don’t show the infection rate — the number of positive COVID-19 cases compared to the number of residents in a nursing home.
"It would be important just because you'd want to know if you have a serious problem there. And if so, where are the staff people going after work, and the spread beyond that facility, frankly,” Hagopian told WUWM.
He says the state also doesn't indicate what's going on at very small care sites.
"There are actually tens of thousands of people in one to two-bed facilities, three to four-bed facilities, and we don't know what's going on in those facilities. We hope the infection isn't rampant there. We don't think it is, but we don't know,” Hagopian said.
He acknowledges nursing homes have made a lot of adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hagopian says it’s a bit of good news that there are only 38 active investigations out of more than 300 skilled care facilities statewide.
John Vander Meer represents long-term care sites. He's president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association and Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living. Vander Meer says facilities with a case of COVID-19 should not be painted with a broad brush of providing bad care.
He says the sites do everything they can to control infections and that the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a nursing home problem.
"This is an everyone problem. The positive cases of COVID can occur in any situation where there are congregated individuals. And this has been evidenced by a lot of different professions and situations in which people congregate,” Vander Meer said.
He says long-term care facilities have been transparent about outbreaks with patients’ families, local public health agencies and other need-to-know groups.
But now, with the release of the nursing home investigations data, DHS says the general public has a better idea of what's taking place.
Have a question you'd like WUWM to answer? Submit your query below.