South Bend Tribune. July 16, 2020.
A step toward more transparency about Hoosier nursing homes
The announcement earlier this month that Indiana officials will release facility-level data for COVID-19 in nursing homes is long overdue.
For months, Indiana - unlike its neighboring four states - has refused to publish this critical information, releasing only statewide totals for COVID-19 cases and deaths at these facilities. This despite calls from family members of nursing home residents, lawmakers and advocates for residents to identify the homes suffering from COVID-19 outbreaks.
Gov. Eric Holcomb gave the rationale that the facilities are private businesses, even though more than 90% of Indiana’s nursing homes are owned by county hospitals, which are units of local government - and heavily dependent on public money, receiving billions in Medicaid and Medicare payments each year.
At a recent news conference, Dr. Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the Family and Social Services Administration, said the state is changing course after the largest associations that represent long-term care facilities and AARP expressed their support for providing facility-level information.
“As we have all learned, responding to this pandemic requires us to continuously evaluate our approaches, and when appropriate, to change them,” he said. “This is one of those times.”
Officials said that it would take some time to build a dashboard that will allow the public to search by facility, and that it will require comprehensive reporting by nursing homes of a list of staff and residents who have contracted COVID and when those cases occurred, going back to March 1. Rusyniak said earlier this month that it would be collected by mid-July, when the state would make the data available to the public in a “preliminary form.”
In response, AARP Indiana, one of the groups that had called on the state to release COVID-19 data for individual facilities, said that “it is our hope that this new dashboard will bring more transparency to the difficulties we have seen at our long-term care facilities during this health crisis.”
That transparency is needed locally, where the gaps in public reporting have frustrated family members and don’t allow for a complete picture of nursing home outbreaks, according to a Tribune report last month. St. Joseph County, for example, claims it won’t identify individual facilities because nursing home residents generally do not mingle with the public and do not pose a risk to others.
During this public health emergency, with nursing homes in Indiana and across the country being devastated by COVID-19, there’s no justification for withholding timely and specific information from Hoosiers. It’s encouraging that state officials seem to have finally acknowledged the public’s right to know.
The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 19, 2020.
The formula for ‘normal’ remains unchanged
As Indiana tries to target its response to upsurges in COVID-19 cases, the wait time for test results has gotten longer and, as The Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly reported, the number of tests being conducted has dropped. The latter situation may get worse because the federal government has redirected some of the testing resources sent to Indiana to “hotter” spots, such as Florida, where governors have made less prudent decisions about reopening.
This, as Indiana COVID-19 cases are again beginning to spike. As Gov. Eric Holcomb said as he extended some of the state’s shelter-in-place requirements another two weeks: “We’re living on the edge here, day-in and day-out.”
What all this means to Allen County, which has so far fared better than many other places despite 139 confirmed deaths, is not yet clear to the county’s new health commissioner, Dr. Matthew Sutter.
“We don’t have a great way to measure that until we get the test results back,” he said. It’s an overcapacity problem at the labs, which he thinks will be rectified.
Sutter doesn’t think death rates are the most accurate way to gauge the problem because many patients who die have been hospitalized for weeks.
“We saw an increase in cases in June,” he said. “We peaked in mid-June.” But the numbers have been stable for the past few weeks.
“I think we will follow the national trends, just more slowly,” Sutter said.
One key to keeping Allen County relatively stable has been the great work the health department has done on contact-tracing isolation, which limits the number of transmissions from a person who tests positive. But when the turnaround is too long, tracing becomes less beneficial.
Sutter is hoping for more testing relief if the state is able to develop regional testing labs.
Which brings us back, as always, to the basics: Hand washing, social distancing and, most of all, wearing masks in public. “I think those are the big things,” Sutter said. “I’m not sure that they’re sexy anymore; they’re just incredibly effective.”
“I would like everyone to wear a mask outside their house,” he said, then paused. “But I think it’s a difficult thing to enforce.”
Of course, in some settings, everyone must now wear a mask, and the new commissioner is hoping it will catch on. “I really love what the retail stores are doing with requiring masking,” he said. “Once you get used to wearing a mask, then it’s strange not to wear a mask. It’s just the way our brain works.”
Today it’s hard to imagine Indiana’s streets filled with mask-wearing, social-distancing Hoosiers. But before March, it would have been hard to imagine empty malls and shuttered schools.
We want to get kids back to school safely. We want to be able to relax in crowds. This is what it will take. How about it, Hoosiers, are you up for it?
Kokomo Tribune. July 17, 2020.
Simple act of listening
Kokomo Police Chief Doug Stout remembers a meeting in October 2019 with the Kokomo TenPoint Coalition, a group working to reduce youth gun violence in the city.
A young Black woman was sharing with the those in attendance her past encounters with law enforcement and apprehension of being pulled over by a police officer.
“What I heard is flat out, ‘I’m scared. I don’t know if I’m going to get shot,’” Stout said.
Helping the public overcome that fear of law enforcement is what Stout said is one of the department’s biggest concerns. He and other like-minded leaders in law enforcement know the key to building trust in police departments is outreach and communication with the community, particularly neighborhoods that have a high percentage of minorities.
Departments also must develop strong, detailed social media policies – and enforce them – so that rogue officers don’t reinforce negative stereotypes about police, impeding the process.
One way to build trust and bridge that disconnect between police officer and city resident is through simply listening to what is said.
Since Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death in the custody of police officers May 25, protesters have made their voices heard in the nation’s largest cities and smallest towns. A poll released Monday by the University of Maryland School of Public Policy suggests a plurality of America is on the side of the protesters.
Almost 90% of respondents supported mandatory body cameras. Eighty-one percent favored a national registry of police misconduct. Fifty-five percent backed a ban on chokeholds. Like an over-the-counter decongestant, however, these proposals address the symptoms of police brutality and not their cause: a lack of trust of police officers.
“There’s a percentage of every single city somewhere in this world or in the United States that don’t trust their policemen. Why? We need that communication to go back and forth as to why,” Kokomo’s Chief Stout said. “Until then, we’re not going to know how to correct it.”
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