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Pandemic ignites need for Open Government at all levels

by | Jun 11, 2020 | Opinion

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.

For more stories like this, see the June 11 issue or subscribe online.

By Rep. Todd Hunter, State Representative (R), Corpus Christi, State District 32

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