Since late May, the state has provided detailed reports on fatalities from Covid-19 in nursing homes, but for assisted living facilities, the same information is hard to come by.
The most recent “Weekly Covid Report” from the governor’s office offers 40 pages of data on nursing homes — everything from case number ranges to staff testing regimens.
But the report includes only five pages on assisted living facilities. And there is nothing about the number of deaths at those facilities.
The Independent filed a public records request for fatality information at the 17 assisted living facilities on Cape Cod. The results are printed here. As of press time, state officials have not answered questions about why this information is not provided in the state’s weekly reports to the public.
In the report provided to the Independent, any number between 1 and 10 in the columns for number of cases (“Positive [Res]”) and deaths reported was redacted from the data and marked “Exemption C.” The reason, according to Lesley Moreau, the records access officer at the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, was HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.
According to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism school and research organization, some health institutions and government agencies have misinterpreted HIPAA rules, with the result that important Covid-19 information is unreported.
“Let’s be clear,” wrote Al Tomkins in an explainer to journalists published on the institute’s website in April, “HIPAA was intended to protect individual medical and health information.” But, he added, “the key word there is ‘individual.’”
Nursing home data appear to be handled differently from data on assisted living facilities. In reporting on nursing homes, any number of deaths between 1 and 4 is condensed into a range: 1-4. The Independent could not establish before press time why privacy is protected in this way in the case of nursing homes, and in a different way in the case of assisted living facilities. That is, it appears that the state can report that five people died in a nursing home, but cannot report that five people died in an assisted living facility.
In the meantime, the numbers for assisted living facilities appear to be more or less in line with those from nursing homes. Broadly speaking, elder-care homes of all kinds were either spared or were hit very hard. That is, either cases and fatalities are both zero, or cases are in double digits, and fatalities nearly so.
Harbor Point at Centerville, which appears to generally receive high marks from the public for its services, had the highest number of positive cases, 17, and deaths, 11, in this report. It is a facility that specializes in “memory care” for people with dementia.
Two other assisted living facilities on the Cape had more than 10 cases: Brookdale Cape Cod in Hyannis and Cape Cod Senior Residences in Pocasset. There were deaths at each of these, but because there were 10 or fewer, the exact number was not made available.
Two other Cape assisted living facilities had 10 or fewer cases: Atria Woodbriar Place in Falmouth and Maplewood at Brewster. Both had at least one death. Again, due to the number of deaths being 10 or fewer, the exact numbers are redacted from the report.
Overall, 12 assisted living facilities on Cape Cod escaped unscathed; five did not. These numbers are consistent with other evidence from around the region.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in September that most states don’t report data for assisted living facilities, but those that do showed coronavirus cases and deaths rising over the summer.