Openness and Transparency From Arizona’s Nursing Homes is Necessary to Combat the Coronavirus

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Two out of every three Coronavirus fatalities in Maricopa County, according to a citation made by House Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick, Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, and Greg Stanton in a May 27, 2020 letter to the Director of the Acacia Health Center, was elderly residents receiving care in nursing home facilities.

In the letter, (reported by ABC News) the four House Representatives, noting the release of vital medical data by the Glencroft Center for Modern Aging, asks the Director of the Acacia Health Center to do the same, writing:

“While it is clear that much more needs to be done to protect residents and staff at long term care facilities, we also need to know the extent of the problem to make informed decisions…”

 The Representatives further asked the Director to supply data from when the pandemic began so:

“To understand trends in infection location and spread, assess the disproportionate burden on nursing homes, and identify best practices and what additional support is necessary to prevent the virus’s transmission at facilities such as yours.”

Successfully repelling this pandemic and preparing well for additional waves of the virus cannot be achieved without full access to all the scientific and medical data.

For private and public officials to willingly not be transparent and release that information is at least negligence; at most criminal.

Several officeholders and candidates for elected office in 2020 echo the sentiments of the Four House Representatives who wrote the letter to Acacia.

Legislative District (LD) Officeholders

Legislative District Nine State Senator Victoria Steele

“As the Ranking Democrat on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, I have made it quite clear that the data on nursing testing, positive cases, deaths, and locations should be made positive.  I disagree with the Director of DHS on this topic.  She argues that it would violate HIPPA rules but other states have found this not to be true.  I want this information made public immediately.  It can be done without violating the privacy of individuals.  Transparency should be the rule in protecting public health.”  

Legislative District 18 State Representative Mitzi Epstein

“We care for our young and our old.  That’s the core of being human.  Sadness does not even begin to express our feeling about the grandparents we have lost to COVID-19.  78% of deaths are people over 65 years old.”  

“The core of good governance should include planning for the care of our young and old.”

“The planning is what is missing in the case of this pandemic.  At the state level, Gov. Ducey did a good job of enacting some safety measures immediately for nursing homes.”

“However, the most difficult measure is the one that would have helped the most and saved the most lives – and it was not done.”

“That difficult measure is to support the workers in nursing care facilities.”

 “People who care for others as their daily job do wonderful work in memory-care facilities for people with Alzheimer’s,  in nursing homes,  and in many homes. Frequently, they are beloved by their clients and their clients’ families.    They have done their work with very little training about virus transmission and often without PPE.   They have to travel from one home to another, potentially spreading the virus.” 

“It’s not their fault.  Public health planning is the job of government.  We need the government to do a good job of planning for disasters, to prevent them, and to manage them to provide help to get through them.  Disasters happen; floods, fires, recessions causing widespread unemployment, and pandemics.”

“Arizona did not have detailed plans to manage this pandemic. Our unemployment insurance system is a train-wreck.  The good people at DES are doing everything humanly possible to help people, but their management failed to develop detailed plans for disaster-scale unemployment and failed to practice what little planning was in place. Their management is the series of governors we have had, in combination with shortsighted budgeting from the legislature.”

“The failure to plan for nursing home workforce support also falls at the feet of governors and the legislatures.”

“Arizona should have created programs for three kinds of worker support:

1- Encourage workers in congregate care facilities to work for only one facility.

2- Provide appropriate PPE. 

3- Provide training and follow-up inspections to assure safety measures are being followed, to reduce the spread of the virus.”

“Each of these steps is very difficult on its own, and collectively they are a huge job.  But we have a lot of people who are looking for jobs,  so it is certainly within our human capacity to figure it out.”

“We can figure out big problems when we have the will to work collaboratively.”

“That is something that the government should do well.  That is the opposite of running like a business that works competitively.  We the people,  the everyday voters, and residents of Arizona need to value the part of government that invests in planning. We, the legislators, need to be more careful about budget cuts to be sure that we are always investing in plans to prevent tragedies, and plans to manage disasters.” 

“To help figure out the big problems of workforce support in nursing homes, Arizona could have hired consultants to support congregate care facilities to help them achieve those three goals with Shared Work Unemployment Insurance and support for Paid Time Off.   These are policies that are good for individual workers, for the economy as a whole, and for public health.” 

“Instead, the governor declared some basic requirements to not allow people into congregate facilities who have a raised temperature, and to prohibit visitors. 

Those are good choices when faced with a crisis and there is no plan in place.” 

“We must start working on better plans so that in the next pandemic we can still visit grandma, and in the next pandemic we will not lose so many grandmas.”

Congressional Candidates

Congressional District Five Candidate Joan Greene

I am disappointed the other Arizona Congresspeople did not join their colleagues in requesting full transparency from the nursing facilities.

Transparency is the key to stemming and stopping the spread of COVID-19 and the public has a right to know if their loved one is in danger.

Financial assistance if needed and contact tracing to ensure other families and our communities are safe are just a few reasons why accurate data is essential.

Stemming and stopping COVID-19 should not be a partisan issue.”

Congressional District Six Candidate Karl Gentles

“Transparency, trust, and confidence in our government institutions or public and private facilities entrusted to care for our seniors is non-negotiable. The health of our family members comes first before profits or companies. Nursing homes and other senior care facilities that run clean, safe operations should have nothing to hide. I support the full reporting of COVID-19 cases by Arizona care facilities so they can be held accountable and so we can applaud those that are doing right by our seniors.”

Congressional District Eight Candidate Michael Muscato

“When you put a narcissistic, vindictive, and selfish person in a position of power and surround them with enablers rather than leaders, this is what happens. As Americans and Arizonans we shouldn’t be fighting for transparency from our government officials or care institutions concerning health and safety reporting. Especially here in Arizona’s Eighth congressional district home to many retirement communities and nursing care facilities, information and data integrity are critical to keeping our seniors and vulnerable populations safe.”

“It’s hard to believe that our current representation would rather mislead our senior population rather than take care of them like one of their own. We need elected officials in office who work to make our lives better. We need leaders in office not lemmings.”

Congressional District Eight Candidate Bob Musselwhite

“In a Democracy every single individual counts.  In the kind of country I think we want to live in we take care of those people who are not able to fully take care of themselves.”

“People in assisted living or other long term facilities in many cases are ignored when they express their needs or neglected when threats to their life and well-being present themselves.  Unfortunately in many cases in such facilities profit is a factor.”

“Certainly it becomes the purview of government to ask the questions that need to be asked to assure the well being of residents of long term care facilities.”

“I fully support the letters containing the questions to see if further action is needed to protect some of the most vulnerable individuals who live in our state and thank those officials that are asking the questions.”

Legislative District (LD) Candidates

Legislative District One State House Candidate Judy Stahl

“As a candidate for Arizona State House of Representatives for Legislative District One and a concerned Arizona citizen, I commend Representatives Ruben Gallego, Paul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick and Greg Stanton for their critically important letter to Arizona nursing home facilities asking them to provide coronavirus information dating back to the start of the pandemic. Residents of long-term care facilities account for an overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths in Arizona and in this country. The data requested in this letter will go a long way in determining how best to protect these vulnerable citizens and the dedicated staff who care for them. I urge all nursing home facilities to comply with this request as quickly as possible.”

 “My first full-time job at the age of 18 was in a nursing home, where I worked as a nursing assistant to save money for college. It was a hard job, one that to this day does not receive the respect or the compensation that its essential nature deserves. It prepared me for the realities of aging and the responsibilities, challenges, and very human consequences of working in health care, my chosen career for over 40 years. Our job as citizens is to petition our political leaders and the medical community to investigate and analyze how to make our nursing home facilities safe havens for residents and staff, rather than the high-risk environments that many have become. I applaud Representatives Gallego, Grijalva, Kirkpatrick and Stanton for taking this first step.”

 “Arizonans want transparency in their elected leaders and their government. When citizens are kept in the loop with regular and open communication, they begin to trust that they can be partners with elected leaders in taking care of our state. As a State Representative, I will continue to push for the data that will help us defeat the coronavirus and put protections in place to manage future health emergencies. Working together, we can defeat this pandemic by taking actions based on what we know and what we can predict, which means we need as much information as we can get from our communities.” 

Legislative District Six State Senate Candidate Colonel Felicia French

 “When it comes to protecting our families and the most vulnerable members of our communities; access to accurate data is critical to smart decision-making. Without transparency and testing to track the spread of the coronavirus amongst Arizona’s 11,000 nursing home residents, and to understand how well prepared the estimated 16,000 workers are with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—our hands are tied in the fight to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”

“Our nursing home communities have disproportionately borne the brunt of this pandemic, but as we’ve seen recently in the Navajo Nation, a community that has also been devastated by this disease, widespread testing and contact tracing can be an effective tool in the battle against COVID-19.”

“The information we capture and analyze about this disease’s impact in our local nursing homes will enable us to better deal with COVID-19 across all high-risk communities, like Veterans Affairs long-term care centers and other assisted living facilities.”

 Legislative District Eight State House Candidate Sharon Girard

 “If there is one thing that is important to everyone regarding healthcare now more than ever it is honesty and transparency.”

In my thirty years as a medical provider I never lied to a patient nor covered up a situation.  I never avoided a hard answer or a difficult question.”

“Right now our Governor is doing this very thing in regards to our COVID cases in Arizona’s nursing homes.  People can deal well with the truth.  People can work well with data and facts.  But when there is a cover-up and secrecy no one is well served and everyone suffers.”

“Healthcare is not political.  Health sees no color, creed or religion.  Viruses care for no one’s age or ability.  We are all in this together and we must all act as one to defeat an aggressor who wants to win at all costs.”

“Now is not the time for cloaks and daggers but for transparency and accountability.  Come out of the shadows and lets lay the cards on the table.  Where are we and what do we need to do?”

“We must protect the most vulnerable among us.  Now is the time for us to stand up for ethics, the dignity of life and the grace of those in need.  Our governor should show how he is leading during these times of struggle instead of hiding the data using fear tactics.  Give us the numbers and let us fight this fight with the all weapons in our arsenal so we can win.  There is no shame is any numbers you may find, but there is shame in not facing the facts and being truthful.”

Legislative District Ten State House Candidate Paul Stapleton-Smith

“ To be perfectly clear, this virus doesn’t give a damn about politics, ideology or profits. We have one responsibility to address to protect our patients, our workers, our communities AND  our economy—we must use medical science to identify when and where this virus is at the moment that it is identified. We cannot put out a fire if we don’t know where it is.” 

 “The protections for the patients, families and staff of our nursing homes and long term care facilities are the special focus of public health scientists and our Congressional Representatives Grijalva, Kirkpatrick, Stanton, and Gallego for the right reasons: the people in these facilities are extremely vulnerable to both infection and transmission of this aggressive virus into our communities. Our best medical experts tell us that testing, tracing, and transparency in reporting infections are critical tools to containing the virus and protecting all of us.”

“Our Representatives are demonstrating how they can work together outside of the gridlock of Washington DC to protect our people. Long and reliable champions of workers and working families, these Representatives also understand that the private owners of these facilities must not confuse the compelling need for immediate and public transparency to our citizens of new infections with their hand-wringing over profits and the specter of “bad news” to hurt their businesses.”

“We have a moral and ethical right to protect everyone in this pandemic. It starts with transparency and being honest with each other. Long term care facilities are everyone’s responsibility, and all of us must accept that. We are all in this together. Let’s act like it.”

Legislative District 11 State Senate Candidate Gunnery Sergeant JoAnna Mendoza

“Times of crisis often reveal people’s true nature and intentions.”

“When I deployed to Iraq for the first time, our Marine Corps leaders told us all to keep an eye on one another and how we responded under those high-stress conditions. We held each other accountable because we had a responsibility to do what was right and uphold the principles that we had sworn to protect.”

“During this pandemic, we’ve learned many things about the true nature of some of our elected officials and the lack of transparency and accountability within our government.”

“It is mind-blowing that more hasn’t been done to obtain COVID- related information from nursing homes and long-term care facilities. I applaud the Glencroft Center for Modern Aging for making the decision to release the number of COVID-19 related cases and deaths among their residents and staff. Not only does this provide critical data about the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic, it brings awareness to the challenges that many industries, including nursing homes, face in providing necessary protections and keeping our loved ones safe.”

“Nursing homes are on the frontlines of this crisis. They are already overwhelmingly understaffed and lack the supplies and support they need to put protections in place.”

“We need to know the full extent of the situation in order to develop solutions. My grandmother is in her 90s and I can’t imagine living with that uncertainty if she were in a nursing home. It is absolutely imperative that we do more to support the industries that are caring for our elders.”

“Transparency and accountability are key. Releasing this data is a good start for improving our understanding of how this pandemic is affecting some of our most vulnerable and I thank our Congress Members for making this request.”

Legislative District 11 State Senate Candidate Linda Patterson

Arizona residents deserve the reality that data from long-term care facilities are released, examined, and processed in a manner that provides for a model of continuous improvement. It is only right to do so. The stakes are too high with COVID-19 and doing so is a responsible act of due diligence. We have only seen a small sample of what has been occurring in these facilities and unfortunately, it has revealed a tragic picture of ongoing suffering and death.”

“In my mind, the following public health guarantees are necessary during these challenging times:

  1. To continually monitor the status of coronavirus and identify potential community health problems.
  2. To diagnose and investigate health problems and hazards in our communities.
  3. To continually inform, educate, and empower people about COVID-19.
  4. To mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve issues related to COVID-19.
  5. To link people to personal health services.
  6. To assure competent public health and personal healthcare.”

“We must be aggressive in putting preventive measures in place to ensure that catastrophic conditions do not occur as a result of neglect or mismanagement. Our residents deserve to feel safe and know that they truly are safe in our communities. Anything less is unfair and unjust.”

Legislative District 21 State Senate Candidate Brian Whitman

 “I support the efforts of Representatives Gallego, Grijalva, Kirkpatrick, and Stanton to bring transparency to COVID-19 reporting by nursing facilities extending back to the beginning of the pandemic. Transparency gives us facts, These facts need to be utilized in decision making for our current health crisis and in the planning and response for any future health crisis that we may face.”

Legislative District 22 State House Candidate Kathleen Honne

 “The only way we can make informed decisions is with good data. This requires each care facility to first have access to reliable and routine testing for both residents and staff. Once we are confident each care facility can provide accurate data, we owe them assurances before we expect them to provide it. Remember, they were not provided Personal Protective Equipment for staff or clients; let alone a roadmap for navigating this pandemic. It is up to us, their community to use the data responsibility! A second wave is coming; based on science, not fear. The data these facilities can provide will aid in making good decisions to save lives during a second or third wave. If this is the intent, I am all for it.” 

 Legislative District 25 State House Candidate Suzanne Hug

“Arizonans want to know what’s going on in our neighborhoods. We need every tool possible to track and stop the spread of COVID19 so that we can save lives. I fully support the call for COVID data from care facilities. We need data-driven public policy, and this GOP cover-up needs to stop.”

County Supervisor Candidates

 Maricopa County Supervisor District Two-Candidate Deedra Abboud

 “To get through this together, we need to know where clusters might be forming as early as possible. And that means the community needs to know when facilities that take care of our most vulnerable family, friends, and neighbors have positive Covid-19 cases.”

Pima County Supervisor District Five-Candidate Adelita Grijalva

“A process without transparency does not help our state or county get an accurate picture of the real devastation of COVID in our community. It may appear that the curve is flattening, but that’s only because they’re changing the rules about classification.  It’s misleading and disingenuous.”

Pima County Supervisor District Five-Candidate Consuelo Hernandez

“This letter is, without question, the right and prudent course of action, and I fully support our Members of Congress who have taken this step. In fighting the COVID-19 virus, we must ensure full transparency on data reporting in compliance with the CDC requests. Indeed, withholding of this information puts our most vulnerable populations at further, unnecessary risk.”

 Yavapai County Supervisor District Three-Candidate Dr. Donna Michaels

 “I urge all facilities to demonstrate the highest standard of transparency and collaboration with the state and other care facilities across the state and country. We are truly all in this together. The more we share and learn about COVID 19 in care facilities the better able we will be to address its devastating consequences. It is incumbent upon us to be proactive at every opportunity to ensure the health and safety of our vulnerable populations. Their very lives depend on what we can learn in order to prevent more lives from being lost.”

 Yavapai County Supervisor District One Candidate John Lutes

 “Yavapai County has a disproportionate number of people in assisted living and long-term care, and any failure to disclose a viral outbreak in such facilities not only risks the lives of those residents, it exposes our healthcare workers, their families and the larger community to a greater risk of infection as well.

“We simply cannot sensibly assess the risk of reopening our economy if we are kept in the dark about those numbers. Full disclosure is a no-brainer under these conditions.”

County Attorney Candidates

Pima County Attorney Candidate Laura Conover

“Data transparency is essential.  Nowhere has this virus been more devastating than in nursing homes and detention facilities. I applaud this critical letter. I have only one regret. When I wrote the letter to the Governor regarding the virus within State prisons, former heads of State and the Judiciary from both parties signed it.  The health and safety of our community is and must be a non-partisan issue. It is not too late for the Governor to act for our prisons, and it is not too late for our Republican members of Congress to join on this letter to nursing homes.” 

Maricopa County Attorney Candidate Will Knight:

 “I fully support this call for transparency on the part of Arizona’s nursing homes, and I thank Reps. Gallego, Grijalva, Kirkpatrick, and Stanton for demonstrating leadership by shining a spotlight on the issue. Withholding vital information about the course of the COVID-19 pandemic may not be a criminal or legal issue for these private entities at this time, but during a health crisis of this magnitude, we must all go above and beyond the minimum requirements of the law and instead take every reasonable action we can to help keep our neighbors safe.”

Pima County Attorney Candidate Jonathan Mosher

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for leaders at every level of government to make decisions based on evidence, data, and science rather than conjecture and emotion.  The first step in this decision-making process is to gather available data and make it available so it can be used to promote good decisions. 

When it comes to our public health, we must promote transparency.  Nursing homes are no exception to this.  While we must continue to protect individual rights to privacy, we must also strive for rapid data sharing to address this pandemic in a timely, evidence-based, and responsible manner.”

 Mayoral Candidate

 Flagstaff Mayoral Candidate Jamie Whelan

“Representatives Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, and Greg Stanton took a bold step in asking for transparency not only to maintain protection for our most valuable and vulnerable population but to create trust.  Our citizens deserve a government that wants accurate answers, data that is true, and leaders that are trustworthy.”

For the State and Arizona Residents to come through the Coronavirus this year and next, it is vital all the community stakeholders fully know the scale of the Public Health emergency everyone is facing.

To withhold this information will only potentially make the emergency worse and quite probably prolong it.

Who in their right mind wants that?

It is paramount that transparency is followed and the essential medical and scientific data get to the people that need to know what it contains.

The letter sent by Representatives Kirkpatrick, Gallego, Grijalva, and Stanton can be seen below.