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KARE 11 Investigates: New details about long-term facility deaths

New records reveal a facility-by-facility list of the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Minnesota nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Under pressure from a state lawmaker, the Minnesota Department of Health has released – for the first time – detailed information about the number of COVID-19 cases identified in the state’s long-term care facilities.

More than 80% of the state’s nearly 1,200 coronavirus deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities. But until now officials have declined to release a detailed facility-by-facility breakdown.

The newly released records show there have been 615 deaths among residents in the state’s skilled nursing homes – by far the biggest share of 995 confirmed coronavirus deaths in all facilities.

Although the death toll is higher among frail nursing home patients, the new data reveals there have been more confirmed outbreaks in the state’s assisted living facilities. According to the latest statistics, there have been 157 outbreaks in assisted living facilities, 120 in skilled nursing home, and 15 in memory care units.

KARE 11 has prepared a searchable database you can look up each facility by county and facility name.

“People need to know”

The Minnesota Department of Health released the data after Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point) threatened to subpoena it.

“People need to know,” Housley told KARE 11. “This is information we want to know about our loved one’s in facilities.”

Credit: KARE 11
Sen. Karin Housley demanded release of the long term care information.

“We want to know: When can we see our parents? We want to know which facilities have COVID. We want to know which facilities they were discharging hospitals to," Housley added.

“It’s frustrating it took so long,” said Kris Sundberg of Elder Voice Family Advocates. She said her group had been requesting the information – without success – for the past several months.

“Families need to know,” she said, especially since family members have been unable to visit relatives during the coronavirus lock down. “They need to make decisions that impact the care that their loved one gets,” she said.

Although she welcomed the release of the new information, elder care advocates continue to be frustrated by what they view as continued secrecy about inspections of some facilities.

Credit: KARE 11
Kris Sundberg of Elder Voice Family Advocates still wants inspection reports released.

Although the Department of Health has inspected every facility with a confirmed outbreak of COVID-19, only the inspection reports for nursing homes have been made public. The state still considers reports involving assisted living to be confidential.

“Why should that be kept secret?” Sundberg asked. “That’s important information for us to know.”

In a statement, the Minnesota Department of Health told KARE 11 “We have maintained our practices of not publicly releasing reports about the non-regulatory activities done by MDH’s Infection Control Assessment and Response Program (ICAR), such as when we proactively provided support to assisted living facilities. We always have and will continue to release regulatory survey and inspection reports for state and federally licensed long-term care facilities.”

We asked MDH why it took so long to release the information about COVID-19 outbreaks families have been begging for. State officials said they have tried to balance patient privacy with public information.

Minnesota is currently the only state in the nation that does not license assisted living facilities. Because they are unregulated, the Department of Health classifies their COVID-19 reviews at those locations as assistance to the facilities rather than formal inspections.