Pandemic Ignites Need for Open Government
By State Rep. Todd Hunter Texans have been witnessing things that would have been unthinkable until now: Surge teams, testing of nursing homes for COVID-19 and the National Guard helping to disinfect nursing home facilities around the state.
This is the time for the public to have access to information for their safety, protection and understanding. Government at all levels should be releasing information so the public has confidence and clarity as to what is happening.
An example of where information should be more forthcoming is the nursing home arena. There have been instances where government at all levels won’t release information on which healthcare facilities have had infections or deaths and which ones have not. Certain groups have steadfastly refused to identify facilities where cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. With Texas families desperately concerned about their loved ones in these centers, this is not productive or constructive.
Some groups have cited state and federal privacy laws in refusing citizens’ requests for this information. That reason ignores the fact that our privacy statutes prohibit release of personal information that can identify a particular patient, not the facility where the patient became ill — or how many patients from a location were infected or died.
Federal authorities have indicated they intend to release information soon. But that’s not a permanent fix.
We need to encourage health authorities at all levels to discuss outbreaks and impacts in nursing homes. This will help distraught family members to understand what is happening medically and not rely on social media and the rumor mill for information about family members.
It’s important to remember that this is the people’s business, not just the business of corporations and the government. Citizens may not need personally identifiable information about a nursing home’s infected patients, but they do need to know whether they or their loved ones are in a precarious or dangerous situation.
In the next legislative session I will file legislation allowing public access to timely, detailed statistical information about disease transmission and mortality rates in healthcare facilities. The information would not be patient-specific, but it would be facility-specific.
As consumers we need this information to make effective healthcare decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. As citizens, we need the information for accountability reasons and to understand what is occurring.
The citizen is the ultimate decision maker in both our economic and our governmental systems. This pandemic has shown that it’s time for Texans to get access to information necessary to make sound decisions about the welfare of their families and loved ones.