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Health Department releases data detailing COVID-19 cases in Minnesota’s long-term care facilities

The Minnesota Department of Health had previously not disclosed the number of known cases and deaths at individual facilities, citing patient privacy. But it reversed course Friday after Republican Sen. Karin Housley threatened to subpoena the department for the data.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
In a letter, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the data demonstrate “the significant improvements that have been made in identifying and containing the spread of COVID-19 in various congregate care settings.”.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday released a cache of data on how COVID-19 is affecting people living and working in the state’s long-term care facilities, including the number of known cases and deaths at individual facilities.

The agency had previously not disclosed such case information, citing legal guidance that it could violate patient privacy rules. But MDH reversed course Friday after Republican Sen. Karin Housley, who chairs the Minnesota Senate’s Family Care and Aging Committee, threatened to subpoena the agency for the data and responses to more than a dozen other questions. The top Democrat on Housley’s committee also said he supported a subpoena if MDH did not respond.

According to the information released by MDH, the facility with most deaths from COVID-19 this year is St. Therese of New Hope, where at least 67 residents have died of the disease. The facility with the second most deaths is North Ridge Health and Rehab, where at least 57 residents have died. At least 38 people have died at Southview Acres Healthcare Center and 29 have died at Augustana Chapel View Care Center.

So far, 863 long-term care facilities have or have had at least one known case of COVID-19, according to the information released by MDH Friday, and 936 of the 1,170 people who have died of the disease in Minnesota were residents of long-term care. 

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MDH held back information on facilities with 10 or fewer residents because it says doing so could identify individual patients. The agency has kept a running list online identifying which long-term care facilities have or have had at least one COVID-19 case. But they also withheld the names of facilities with 10 or fewer residents, and would not say how many people had been infected by COVID-19 and died at each facility.

In a statement Friday, Housley said she appreciated MDH commissioner Jan Malcolm’s response, but also said the department “should consider a more transparent approach when it comes to public disclosure.”

“Perhaps never more than in a public health crisis, Minnesotans have a right to know what is happening,” Housley continued.

In a letter responding to Housley’s request, Malcolm wrote that preventing death in long-term care facilities has been a top priority and said that before the subpoena threat, the agency had already prepared and released data for the committee. Malcolm said the data demonstrate “the significant improvements that have been made in identifying and containing the spread of COVID-19 in various congregate care settings.”

The information released to Housley on Friday includes a breakdown of deaths by each type of long-term care facility. The data shows at least 608 people living in nursing homes have died of COVID-19, 259 died in assisted living facilities, 29 and died in memory care facilities.

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The state’s practice of discharging COVID-positive patients from hospitals so that they can return to long-term care settings has been criticized by Housley and other lawmakers. MDH said 319 of 863 facilities with outbreaks have had a COVID-positive patient transferred from another facility or discharged back to the facility from a hospital. There are no facilities whose outbreaks were started by a COVID-positive patient returning from a hospital, MDH said. 

The agency also released data on inspections of long-term care facilities. Currently, 29 percent of facilities surveyed were not in compliance with federal guidance on infection prevention and control practices.

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