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Coronavirus In Ohio: Nursing Homes Report 781 Cases But Don't Disclose Deaths

Mill Run Rehabilitation Center and Assisted Living in Hilliard has seen several residents and staff test positive for COVID-19. [Ryan Hitchcock / WOSU]
Mill Run Rehabilitation Center and Assisted Living in Hilliard has seen several residents and staff test positive for COVID-19.

Susan Phillips has an 88-year-old father living in Ohio Living Westminster-Thurber in Columbus. She said she's relieved the state started posting data on coronavirus cases in nursing homes.


“I think the more transparency, the more information we all have, the more we can kind of make sense of it,” Phillips says. “I think from that aspect, it’s a good thing.”

After initially  uploading and then removing data on COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, Ohio finally  updated and released information Wednesday afternoon. Ohio currently has 781 cases of COVID-19 among long-term living facilities, according to the Department of Health, including 558 residents and 223 staff members.

Phillips and her siblings have been taking turns chatting with their father every day on FaceTime. The nursing home set up the technology after Ohio banned visitors, early in the coronavirus outbreak.

She says it’s hard not to see her father in person, but she knows it’s for the best. 

“I would give anything to just be able to give him a hug and be with him,” Phillips says. “You know, it’s the hardest thing in the world that I can’t do that. But on the other hand, if I want to eventually do that we all have to be as safe as we can right now.”

While state officials have released a steady stream of dataon coronavirus infection rates in the general population and prison system, information on nursing homes, which contain a large number of high-risk individuals, has been scarce.

According to the data posted Wednesday, nursing home outbreaks span the state. Cuyahoga County has the most, with 123 cases. Of those, 93 are nursing home staff, and 30 are residents. Hamilton County has 101 total, with 74 staff and 27 residents.

And Franklin County has 118 cases, including 72 staff members and 46 residents. 

More Transparent, But Not Entirely

Pete Van Runkel, who directs the Ohio Health Care Association, says this data is a significant improvement from the first data released on April 15. 

“When the web page first went up, it had a lot of errors in it that our members called to our attention,” Van Runkel says. “We in turn called that to the attention of public health.”

The data was taken down two days later after the association and other nursing homes complained about presentation. They said the original posting did not delineate information in a way that helped readers digest it accurately.

Van Runkel says he's excited about three major changes in this most current data release: there's a breakdown of residents versus staff who tested positive, there's a note of what type of facility is being impacted (nursing home, assisted living, etc.), and the data will be updated every Wednesday.

Initially, some nursing homes weren’t releasing information on coronavirus cases, saying they wanted to protect the privacy of their residents. But Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order April 15 requiring all long-term care facilities to  report cases to family members.

“If you’re thinking about taking a loved one or if you’re thinking about going to a nursing home, you have every right to know what the situation is there,” DeWine said at the time.  

Ryan Stubenrauch, spokesman for Mill Run Rehabilitation Center and Assisted Living in Hilliard, is also happy the data is out. That nursing home saw an early cluster of cases, and on Wednesday confirmed six residents have died and another 31 residents and staff have been infected. But they’re not reflected in the new state figures because they haven’t seen a new infection in the past 14 days.

Stubenrauch says Mill Run practiced transparency before DeWine's order.

“We decided we wanted to be open and transparent with our residents and families because we wanted to do everything we can to safeguard their health,” Stubenrauch says. “And families are obviously worried about their loved ones. We thought being open would give them one less thing to worry about in these uncertain times.”

Still, some critical information on nursing homes remains unavailable. Unlike the Health Department's information on the general population and state prison system, the nursing home page does not break down whether anyone has died. It also does not show how many tests have been conducted. The state plans to release data on nursing home deaths next week. Even so, figures will be totaled by county and facilities will not be identified.

WOSU contacted the Ohio Department of Health asking why these data points were omitted, but didn't hear back by the time of publication.

What questions do you have about Ohio's coronavirus response? Ask below as part of our Curious Cbus series.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.