Newspaper demands state health officials say which nursing homes had coronavirus

From the Idaho Statesman

By Audrey Dutton

The Idaho Statesman sent a letter Friday to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, warning that the newspaper plans to sue if the department does not provide records about coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The Statesman on May 21 filed a public record request for the names of long-term care facilities in Idaho with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 among their residents/patients or staff. At the time, there had been at least 22 long-term care facilities in Idaho with coronavirus infections among staff and residents, resulting in at least 273 cases and 44 deaths.

A growing number of states now publicly report not only which nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes have coronavirus cases, but the number of patients and staff who have been infected. Patients and residents of those facilities are especially vulnerable to the disease and make up a disproportionate share of the deaths in Idaho from COVID-19.

Nonetheless, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare denied the Statesman’s request, saying: “The Administrative Procedures Section (APS) received your request. The records custodian consulted with a Deputy Attorney General for the Department who determined your request is denied per IDAPA, 74-105(4)(b) and 74-106(12).”

Debora K. Grasham, an attorney at Givens Pursley in Boise, wrote to the department on behalf of the Statesman, saying the denial “fails to meet the requirements” of Idaho’s public records law.

She wrote that the information “is of paramount importance to the citizens of Idaho — particularly those with loved ones in such long term care facilities — as Idaho deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the widespread release and availability of such information is clearly in the public interest at this moment.”

Other states in the region, such as ColoradoOregonUtah and Washington publish detailed information about outbreaks in nursing homes and other settings.

Despite the refusal by Idaho officials to disclose information, the Statesman was able to confirm the names of 14 of the 22 facilities, through public record requests to local public health agencies, available public records, statements from facility owners and interviews. They included seven facilities in Ada County, two in Jerome County, two in Nez Perce County, two in Twin Falls County and one in Blaine County.

View letter to DHW

From the Idaho Statesman

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