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Arizona Refuses to Name Care Facilities with COVID-19 Outbreaks

Despite a state-backed "testing blitz" each weekend in May, Arizona still ranks near the bottom among states for its per-capita coronavirus testing rate. (Zstock/Adobe Stock)
Despite a state-backed "testing blitz" each weekend in May, Arizona still ranks near the bottom among states for its per-capita coronavirus testing rate. (Zstock/Adobe Stock)
May 19, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Despite calls for more transparency over COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, Arizona officials are refusing to release details of those establishments.

AARP Arizona and others have called on the state to name facilities with significant coronavirus outbreaks and deaths.

The Arizona Department of Health Services cited privacy laws, but several news-media outlets are suing the state, arguing the information is public.

AARP Arizona State Director Dana Kennedy said the response to outbreaks has been much too slow, causing unnecessary deaths.

"We can't hit the reset button, but testing dollars need to go to our long-term care facilities immediately," Kennedy said. "That means long-term care, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, group homes, anywhere that there is congregate housing."

As of Monday, there were more than 14,000 coronavirus cases in Arizona, with 686 deaths. Statewide, 86% of those deaths were in the vulnerable 65+ age group. And in metro Phoenix, 188 of 233 virus-rated deaths were residents of care facilities.

Retiree and Tucson resident Jeannie Tucker recently brought her 97-year-old mother home from a long-term care facility. A long-time advocate for senior rights, Tucker said even before the pandemic, facilities were often understaffed, had poor training and failed to provide proper sanitation. She said since the COVID-19 crisis began, things have gotten worse.

"The state is not providing me with the information that I can then turn around and make those decisions with," Tucker said. "That's not OK. That, to me, is almost a breach of our contract, to where if I'm going to do my job, you have to give me information for which I can do that job."

Tucker said when care homes go into lockdown, families often are shut off from information about their loved ones.

"I'm so offended, angered and disappointed in more words than I can name at the state of Arizona Department of Health Services and the governor for not being transparent with the information of who has infection, how many, what facility, whether it's staff or residents and all of that," she said.

State health officials declared a COVID-19 "testing blitz" across Arizona during May, with an emphasis on testing staff and residents at the state's 147 nursing care facilities. However, a national survey out Monday showed Arizona 49th among the 50 states for the number of tests performed.

Disclosure: AARP Arizona contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ