AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) late Monday began providing self-reported Covid-19 data on cases and deaths for nursing and assisted-living facilities, as well as state-supported living facilities and psychiatric hospitals.
This announcement comes after a recent ruling by the Texas Attorney General’s Office that rejected almost all of the arguments by the HHSC for keeping the data secret.
Throughout the pandemic, nursing homes have remained a hot spot for Covid-19 cases in Texas – and for months, the HHSC had previously refused to release data requested by ABC-7 and other media outlets about which facilities have cases, citing privacy laws.
But the HHSC now says that the data on coronavirus case counts and deaths at these facilities will be updated daily on weekdays, no later than 3 p.m. Data for state-operated supporting living centers and state hospitals will reflect confirmed cases as of the previous business day.
The agency also said because nursing homes and assisted living facilities self-report data to the HHSC, state staff must review it. To allow time for that review, data posted on those facilities by the HHSC will reflect counts two weeks prior to the date of posting.
"(T)he accuracy of the self-reported data from nursing homes is questionable," explains El Paso Matters CEO Bob Moore, who believes more transparency is needed at the local level.
"If El Paso — like other Texas cities — made health department Covid-19 data available to its residents, we would have a way of checking the self-reported data to better understand how individual nursing homes are being affected by Covid-19. That information is crucial to people deciding where to place a loved one for long-term care," he added.
Last week, El Paso City Council voted 5-4, with Mayor Dee Margo breaking a tie, to reject a proposal that would've publicly released data specifically naming nursing homes and other business and facilities with virus outbreaks.
Margo has contended that it would be illegal for the city to release such information, and he's also expressed concern about the negative economic impact for businesses that might be named.
Meantime, it's also worth noting that the state data for two nursing facilities in El Paso, Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation and St. Giles Nursing and Rehabilitation, come with a significant caveat.
As ABC-7 reported last week, virus patients are now being transferred from El Paso hospitals to ‘Covid units’ at those two nursing homes for care, and the HHSC indicated Monday that the official case counts for those facilities include both nursing home residents and hospital transfers combined.
"All admissions into the Mountain View or St. Giles facilities are added to the official census count of each facility, as per federal regulations," HHSC spokeswoman Rebecca Rodriquez told ABC-7. "There is not a separate count for the cohort unit. Therefore, any Covid-positive patient transferred from a hospital or other facility is counted toward the Covid total per each of those facilities.