Protecting parents and grandparents in a pandemic


For months now, Andrew Cuomo — governor of New York, the hardest-hit state in this COVID-19 pandemic — has been the voice of cold hard truths of our nation’s response.

This week his words rang too cold and too hard for me.

Asked by MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd about the brutal toll the virus has wrought on nursing homes, Cuomo said: “Can we keep nursing homes safe? No.”

“You have a vulnerable person. Best to keep them at home and not put them in a congregate facility,” Cuomo said. “Keep them in a situation where you have the most control. That is the blunt truth. That’s what I would do with my mother.”

That is what I tried to do for my mother and father when I moved them into my home in 2013, quitting my job to care for them. My father died on May 27, 2016. Four years later my mother is in a nursing home in Illinois, near her other children. She is there because we no longer could care for her in our homes. It wasn’t a choice as much as a necessity. And four years to the day of my father’s death, she was being tested for COVID-19.

My sister had gotten a call about a week earlier telling her a resident at the home had tested positive for the virus. We learned from the local newspaper the next day that it wasn’t one person; it was four. Now, we have learned there are 40 people infected there — nine employees and 31 residents. Sadly, we have learned one resident died.

I am nearly as worried about the staff — who have been unerringly kind and caring — as I am about my 93-year-old mother. But we only know about the nine cases because the county health department released the data, which was then reported in the local newspaper.

In Indiana, nursing home residents account for only about 12% of the COVID-19 cases, but about 46% of the deaths.

Getting information about where those deaths and infections are has been difficult at best. While in Illinois you can click on a state map to see nursing home cases and deaths by county — with county health departments releasing more specific information — only statewide information is being released in Indiana. The only site-specific data in Indiana is coming through arduous work by the news media.

While Gov. Eric Holcomb and state Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box have handled this pandemic well in many regards, this area isn’t one of them. They insist the nursing homes should contact families directly about positive coronavirus test results and deaths, rather than telling the public. If families don’t get answers from the local nursing home, they’re encouraged to report that to the state which will investigate.

It’s clear that isn’t always happening. At almost every briefing, a reporter relays accounts from the families about the difficulty of getting information.

But this isn’t only about family members. The public has a right to know. If you need a nursing home now for a loved one — either for short-term rehabilitation or long-term medical care — you need to know what has happened in that facility and how they handled it. If you are considering a job at a nursing home, you want that information too. And being told that someone there tested positive is not the same thing as learning later that multiple people, both residents and staff, did so.

And this isn’t about protecting patient confidentiality. No individual names need to be released. But the numbers and locations should be. As State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said recently: “At a time when the free flow of information could help families save lives, Gov. Holcomb is hiding behind privacy laws intended to protect individuals, not nursing homes or regulators.”

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is now requiring nursing homes to report this data to it and the Centers for Disease Control, and CMS administrator Seema Verma said it will be posted soon on the CMS Nursing Home Compare site. In early May, though, the Trump administration said nursing homes didn’t have to include the cases that occurred before May 6 — making the information seriously incomplete.

But Indiana can require public disclosure on its own. I know the state is worried about its nursing home residents. I have seen Dr. Box’s humanity. I know they send out a strike team to help a facility when a positive test result occurs. Making information more publicly available won’t change any of that. It will, though, make the public more aware of the cold hard truths of what our parents and grandparents face.

Mary Beth Schneider is an editor at, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists. "Protecting parents and grandparents in a pandemic" appeared first on

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