The Look in Brief

Trio of U.S. Senators call for more COVID transparency in psychiatric facilities, homes for people with disabilities

By: - November 13, 2020 5:30 am

Doctor taking a swab sample. Stock photo by Mladen Sladojevic/Getty Images

Three U.S. senators are asking federal officials to require psychiatric institutions, group homes for people with disabilities and other treatment facilities for children and adults to report COVID-19 data and make it available to the public.

Nursing homes have been asked since the onset of the pandemic to report coronavirus cases, testing and deaths to federal and state authorities to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“However, no new federal requirements have been implemented to help other congregate care settings improve their response to the pandemic, though they serve similar populations,” the letter said. “As a result, people with disabilities, advocates, researchers, and the media have raised concerns that a parallel crisis has been playing out with far less scrutiny in other settings housing or caring for at-risk populations, specifically in facilities providing care for people with disabilities.”

The letter to Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was sent by Senators Patty Murray, D-Washington State, Margaret Wood Hassan, D-New Hampshire, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts last month.

Robert Stack, CEO of Community Options, which operates group homes for about 4,085 individuals with disabilities in ten states — including Tennessee — said each state had different requirements for reporting. Texas required limited information, he said. New Jersey requires reporting of every case — as does Tennessee.

Tennessee Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities
Tennessee Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

“It’s going to be better for public officials and people that are epidemiologists to get a report on how many people contract COVID and they don’t seem to be reporting it,” Stack said.

Across the homes Stack’s nonprofit organization operates, there have been seven deaths. Stack said that smaller group homes are likely to be less susceptible to outbreaks than large institutions for people with disabilities or psychiatric facilities.

In Tennessee, the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities provides care for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities — defined as an IQ of less than 70 — in group homes and small nursing care facilities for medically fragile individuals. The Department posts the number of tests it conducts and the number of positive cases, but does not specify by facility in its public data. As of November 10, the department had 615 positive COVID cases and 27 deaths.

The Department of Children’s Services likewise posts testing and positive tests. As of November 9, DCS had reported 413 positive cases — a figure that includes only children and not staff.


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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.