Dave Jeppesen file

Dave Jeppesen

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will start publishing the names of nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks, along with weekly statistics about the number of cases and deaths among residents and staff.

The first report, out Friday, shows there have been 52 deaths from COVID-19 associated with nine long-term care facilities in Idaho, making up almost two-thirds of the state’s total 83 deaths. Eleven facilities in the Treasure Valley have staff or residents who have contracted the virus, and five facilities have reported at least one related death.

The state has previously refused to name long-term care facilities where cases were present, citing concern for patients’ privacy. The Idaho Statesman was preparing to sue the Health and Welfare Department if the facilities’ names weren’t made public, contending the information should be made available under Idaho’s Public Records Act, the Associated Press reported.

Additionally, Idahoans for Openness in Government, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition that works to educate government officials, sent a letter to state and local public health officials Thursday calling for the facility names to be made public when there are cases of COVID-19 involved.

“People have a right to know about public health concerns in their community — including when they’re considering placing a loved one in a recently opened bed at a local long-term care facility,” the letter reads. “Idaho’s health districts have never hesitated to name restaurants that violate sanitation standards or that have an employee who has been documented to have a communicable disease; they do so to protect the public health. This information must be released for the same reason.”

The Department of Health and Welfare on Friday published its first weekly report about COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities, including the facilities’ names and cities, and announced that the report will be updated weekly at coronavirus.idaho.gov/ltc.

The list will include long-term care facilities that have had or currently have at least one lab-confirmed or probable COVID-19 case, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in an email Friday to Betsy Russell, the Idahoans for Openness in Government board president and Idaho Press Boise bureau chief.

“The department is committed to open and transparent government,” Jeppesen wrote. “We also are committed to protecting individuals’ privacy. Our challenge on this topic has been balancing those two items, particularly when it comes (long-term care) facilities. We have been working for some time to find a way to balance both. We believe we have found a solution that does both, particularly given that (unfortunately) the number of case has increased.”

If a long-term care facility’s size and census are small or low, then that information may be provided in a date or age range or in another format yet to be determined to protect personal health information.

Idaho has about 400 long-term care facilities, which include skilled nursing homes, assisted living/memory care, and intermediate care facilities, according to Health and Welfare.