I am an attorney who has a family member currently residing in a nursing home in Alabama. In my practice, I often handle cases involving state government and nursing homes, where coronavirus infections and deaths have been rampant in Alabama and throughout the country. At least 20 other states are releasing the names of nursing homes that have been affected by COVID-19. These states are also releasing the number of infections and deaths that have occurred in these facilities due to the virus. Our state is refusing to release this information. Why?
During the current public health crisis, this information is essential to both protect residents in nursing home care now and for families to make safe and informed choices for loved ones who need to admit someone into a nursing home. Right now families are at the mercy of the nursing homes and health departments to know whether their loved one’s facility is affected by the virus or not. With transparency and the release of this information, there will be less uncertainty for these families, including my family.
The state health department has taken the position the release of this information would violate privacy laws. This is silly. The federal laws that protect patients’ medical records apply to individuals, not facilities. The public health aspect of this far outweighs any privacy concerns, which frankly are nonexistent, especially for individuals. Surely there can be a balance between transparency, public health and individual privacy.
During these times this information is critical for public health and the health and well-being of the residents and staff of these facilities. Residents and family members deserve to have this information for their own health decisions and as they consider possible next steps and interventions for their loved ones. What is the big secret? I urge Gov. Kay Ivey to call upon the Alabama Department of Public Health to release this information so families can be reassured they are making the best decisions for their loved ones.
Tommy James Law in Birmingham