PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Arizona Department of Health Services still refuses to release COVID-19 case and death numbers at state care facilities.
The agency is now arguing one reason is because it could hurt the businesses if officials do, and used the Hacienda Healthcare rape case as an example.
Arizona’s Family, along with other Valley media companies, have sued the state for this data.
Arizona’s Family has teamed up with several other Phoenix news organizations in suing the Arizona Department of Health Services to get information about COVID-19 in our long-term health care facilities.
The Hacienda Healthcare case made headlines internationally last year after a patient in a vegetative state was raped and impregnated allegedly by a facility nurse, then gave birth at the facility without staff knowing she was pregnant. Now, the health department is using that as an example of what negative publicity could do to a business, as a reason not to release COVID-19 numbers at long-term care facilities.
The Arizona Department of Health Services said Thursday that Hacienda Healthcare, the embattled care facility where an incapacitated woman gave birth in December 2018, will keep its state license and be allowed to continue operating.
But, the former health director said the two aren’t related at all.
“To elect to use the Hacienda case to flesh out the rationale for that decision seemed puzzling to me,” said Will Humble, the former director of the health department and the current executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.
Humble has no idea why Hacienda is being included in this lawsuit at all.
“Doesn’t make sense to use that as the example of what kind of harm can happen because the errors that were made at that facility were so egregious,” he said.
In the case of the Arizona media against the state, the state said releasing COVID-19 case and death numbers at long-term care facilities violates state law, and on Friday, added that it could hurt facility business by releasing the data. Then, they cited Hacienda losing staff and struggling with financial problems after the publicity they received from the rape case. Humble said this isn’t comparable at all.
“That Hacienda data wasn’t part of an enhanced advisory. COVID-19 is. So as a matter of law, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
But Humble did say the state could have a case according to the statute they’ve now included, which says information shall remain confidential if it’s likely to harm a businesses’ competitive position. Humble said there is a point to be made that if a facility has high numbers of coronavirus cases or deaths, they’ll lose business or suffer future losses. He said it may come down to how a judge interprets the wording of that statute.
“It says ‘substantial harm.’ So that’s the thing about these statutes, what’s ‘substantial’ and what’s just regular harm?” he said.
Humble said this also could become a moot point by the time this court case wraps up. The federal government announced they are going to be publicly releasing long-term care facility COVID-19 data by the end of this month and is done waiting for the states.