Week of questions about long-term care COVID data leads to some answers

After a series of committee hearings and even a threat to obtain a legislative subpoena, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has released detailed information about COVID 19 related issues in long-term care facilities.

Senator Karen Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, chairperson of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee led the charge to get answers.  

She grew increasingly frustrated with what she called a “lack of responsiveness and detailed information coming from the administration.” 

She demanded MDH respond to a list of questions by the end of Friday, otherwise she threatened to pursue a legislative subpoena. 

On Friday night, MDH provided many of the answers lawmakers sought.

Detailed numbers 

Nursing homes have 561 deaths, the count for assisted living centers is 256 and memory care and transitional care have 39 deaths. 

Lawmakers said they received numerous questions and concerns from constituents about transferring COVID-positive patients to nursing homes that had special units set up for them.

The state reports 319 of the 863 facilities had infected patients transferred from another facility or discharged back to the facility, where a patient resided before being infected, from a hospital.

Earlier in the week MDA commissioner, Jan Malcolm said there is no evidence to show that facility outbreaks started because they accepted a COVID-positive patient from a hospital. 

The report to Housley documents the state has fulfilled 62 percent of requests for personal protection equipment to long-term care facilities. 

About 1,400 long-term care requests have been made and they account for about half of the total number of requests made to date.  

Testing progress

The National Guard has tested more than 51 facilities across the state, including 14,000 residents and staff.  

The Guard is scheduled to compete testing in another 53 centers over the next week. At least 140 facilities have completed their own testing. The information shows several hundred facilities remain untested.

Concern over case numbers

Lawmakers’ concern over the issue comes from the fact that 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in Minnesota have been in the category of what the state calls “long-term care and assisted living facilities.”

MDA Commissioner, Jan Malcolm said the category also includes adult foster care, group homes, mental health and substance abuse programs.

She added Minnesota’s numbers look high compared to other states because some out-of-state officials don’t group together all forms of communal living.

Earlier this week, the federal government released new data on nursing homes which shows the average number of COVID cases in nursing homes, per 1000, is 62 nationally and is 39.9 in Minnesota. 

The average number of nursing home deaths, per 1000, is 27.5 nationally and 12.7 in Minnesota.

Senator wants more done

Housley said she appreciates the commissioner's timely response but would like to see more transparency.

She is concerned testing for all facility residents and staff is not happening fast enough and there is not enough personal protective equipment available.

She would also like to see something done to ease visitor restrictions in care centers.

"It has been three months since many of these people have been able to have visitors and they cannot live like that forever," Housley wrote in a press release.

The senator said she will introduce legislation at next week's special session which would require MDH to implement widespread testing in long-term care facilities using a portion of the $1.8 billion in federal funding available to the state.