AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health is inspecting clusters of COVID-19 at eight local senior care facilities, meaning there are three or more cases of the virus at each facility.
But Texans still don’t know which nursing homes in Texas have coronavirus cases or how bad the outbreaks are.
"They might tell me she's dead two weeks after it happens," said Jose Hernandez, whose mom, Leonila, lives at West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in South Austin. "That's my biggest fear. I don't want that. I want to know what's going on with my mom."
Hernandez is one of many people who have told the KVUE Defenders they’re desperate for more information about the spread of COVID-19 where their loved ones live.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) released new numbers Monday showing 238 nursing homes have at least one case of the virus, which is more than 19% of all those facilities in the state. There have been 130 residents who have died.
As for assisted living facilities, there are 69 with at least one case of the virus, which is about 3%. And there have been 34 coronavirus-related deaths in those facilities.
But still, the City and State refuse to tell people where those nursing homes are and how many cases and deaths each one has.
Both agencies cite State and federal personal health privacy laws, like HIPAA, as the reason they won’t disclose that information.
"It’s nonsense to claim that HIPAA bars telling the public where COVID cases are erupting," UT Austin Law Professor Elizabeth Sepper said.
Sepper said disclosing facility locations, case numbers and death totals wouldn’t violate any personal health privacy laws.
"Texas is using HIPPA as a convenient excuse," Sepper said. "Which, HIPAA is often a convenient excuse to withhold information."
HIPAA is a federal law, meaning it would apply to every state. But California, New York, Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Jersey have started releasing facility names and case information.
Family members like Hernandez are hoping Texas follows suit.
"They have to provide more information to us so we know what the real situation is happening in there," Hernandez said.
A spokesperson for the HHSC said other health privacy laws besides HIPAA prevent the agency from releasing the information.
The federal government announced Sunday that nursing homes are now required to report COVID-19 cases and deaths to family members, state health departments and the CDC.
KVUE asked the State to confirm facility names given these new guidelines, but representatives from Health and Human Services still refuse.
"CMS issued information indicating it will now require nursing facilities to report information to CDC and keep residents and their family members informed about conditions at the facilities," HHSC spokesperson Kelli Weldon said in an email. "The directive indicates that CMS will put forth rules requiring this reporting to federal and state authorities. The information does not indicate CMS will impose a reporting requirement on the state regulatory agency."
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:
- After closing over coronavirus concerns, San Marcos restaurant re-opening to help employees
- LIST: Confirmed Central Texas coronavirus cases by county
- The state unemployment trust fund is set to run out of money, but you will get paid
- Coronavirus updates in Central Texas: Travis County now reporting 1,174 total cases, 26 deaths
- Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas National Guard announce mobile testing sites for COVID-19
- Oil prices plummeting: Why it's happening and what that means for Texas
- Central Texas teachers walk out of their classrooms for the last time this school year
- Federal appeals court says Texas can block pill-induced abortions during pandemic
- Unemployment expected to rise in April, Workforce Solutions says