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caption: A health worker talks with Susan Hailey, 76, in her room at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, on Friday, March 13, 2020, in Kirkland.
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A health worker talks with Susan Hailey, 76, in her room at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, on Friday, March 13, 2020, in Kirkland.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Families call for transparency from WA nursing homes on coronavirus cases

Many, but not all, nursing homes in Washington state are posting coronavirus updates on their websites, and recording messages with the quickly shifting numbers of confirmed cases among residents and staff.

But these public disclosures are voluntary, and family members are finding that those efforts can vary significantly from place to place. The updates frequently include the status of all coronavirus cases, including test results and hospitalizations.

Bayview retirement community in Seattle is one of the places providing these updates. Joel Smith is their health services administrator. He said they’ve decided that public disclosure is the best way to alleviate fear.

“We found that if we have suspected cases of Covid 19 it’s best to inform everybody,” Smith said.

He said they can disclose this information without violating medical privacy laws.

“We feel it is important for our staff, our residents and our families to understand that this may be a reality,” he said, “and if it is, we are prepared to be able to take care of any situation that may come our way.”

But Smith said with strong prevention measures, he believes some nursing homes will be spared from the epidemic. So far Bayview had one suspected case of Covid-19, but it came back negative.

“We are Covid-19 free as of today, and praying and working hard to keep it Covid-19 free,” Smith said.

They have about 200 residents in a range of settings from independent living to a skilled nursing facility.

In addition to updates on the website every few days, Bayview communications director Jill Chang said staff members are fielding lots of one-on-one phonecalls and emails from family members. “That really helps alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with all of this,” she said.

She said the only required disclosure of positive coronavirus cases is to local and state agencies.

Washington State announced new restrictions on nursing homes March 10, so families are unable to visit their loved ones. In the absence of in-person contact, they are connecting through video chats, and seeking reassurances from the facilities themselves.

In a letter to KUOW, a family member with a relative at a different nursing home in the Seattle area described frustration over that facility’s lack of transparency and direct communication. They wrote, “In the absence of information transparency, fear starts to take over.” But they declined to speak publicly for fears of harming their relationship with the nursing home’s administrators.

Fueling those fears is the early coronavirus outbreak at the LifeCare nursing home in Kirkland, which has killed dozens of people. Bayview’s Joel Smith said, “My initial thought for the LifeCare community is compassion. They have certainly gone through a lot. Their staff work hard like any other staff do….and I know they, like all of us, will get through this.”