The Pennsylvania Department of Health has repeatedly refused to release data showing coronavirus deaths at specific long-term care facilities across the commonwealth.
Efforts by The Caucus, a publication of LNP Media Group, to obtain the names of affected long-term care institutions with coronavirus cases and resulting deaths have been rejected by the agency, which regulates, inspects and licenses the facilities.
Long-term care facilities include nursing homes, personal-care homes and assisted living. As of Friday, more than 2,355 people with COVID-19 died in nursing homes and related institutions. That represented 68 percent of 3,416 statewide deaths.
“We are continuing to consider whether to release the names of facilities with infections, and if we are to do that publicly, it will be shared on our website,” Nate Wardle, an agency spokesman said. “The right to privacy for those individuals in facilities must be considered.”
Asked how privacy rights would be affected by releasing names of institutions, Wardle said, “If there is a facility with just one or two cases, and the facility was identified, it could potentially identify the individual within the facility.”
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bob Mensch, a Montgomery County Republican, isn’t buying it.
“Data is data. If you don’t want to share data you can draw a conclusion there’s something they don’t want you to learn from the data,” said Mensch, who sat in on a joint Senate committee hearing on nursing homes this week.
The refusal by the Department of Health, an agency under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, belies Wolf’s claim of championing transparency, Mensch said. “They’re not transparent,” he said.
“They’re hiding something,” Mensch said.
The agency’s website provides county totals on deaths in long-term care facilities.
The governor’s office, asked about Mensch’s criticism, deferred to the Department of Health and its spokesman, Wardle.
”The question to release the data does not involve a subjective decision,” Wardle responded. “We are working to ensure we protect the right to privacy of Pennsylvanians, including our most vulnerable. That has been our viewpoint from the beginning.”
Wardle stated the agency is reviewing recent information from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
About 80,000 patients reside in 700 nursing homes across the state.
A central tenet of Wolf’s campaign was expanding transparency in government.
The state House unanimously approved a bill this week to require agencies including the Department of Health to respond to Right-to-Know-Law requests. Processing requests has been suspended at most state agencies. The Wolf administration said it would not support the bill and accused some lawmakers of “grandstanding.”
On Friday, Wolf’s office release a list of businesses it has allowed to operate in the pandemic.