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Federal government to name nursing homes with coronavirus cases

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will name nursing home facilities, case counts and death totals by the end of May, according to an agency memo.

AUSTIN, Texas — One month ago, the KVUE Defenders started asking which nursing homes have confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.

While Texas has refused to tell people that information, several other states have made facility names public.

Now the federal government is stepping in, promising to publish facility names and other information by the end of the month.

"Nobody, nobody wants an individual's private information," said Cissy Sanders, whose mother lives at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. "That’s not what we’re asking for."

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Sanders has been working with local and state leaders for weeks to increase nursing home testing and transparency.

"We don’t need to know any residents' names, we don’t need to know any staff names," Sanders said. "We just need to know the name of the facility and the number of confirmed cases."

State health officials use privacy laws to deny revealing which nursing homes have coronavirus cases. Facing public backlash, Texas Health and Human Services has requested a ruling from the attorney general as to whether the agency needs to release that information.

But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now plans to report that data every week by the end of the month, according to a CMS memo.

"We believe that this action strengthens CMS’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirms our commitment to transparency and protecting the health and safety of nursing home residents," the memo reads.

"Good that the federal government is going to do it," said Kelly Shannon, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT). "The State of Texas should have already been doing it."

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FOIFT sent a letter to the State two weeks ago demanding the release of nursing home locations with outbreaks.

"There is not a valid legal reason to withhold this information," Shannon said. "It’s not personal, private, protected health information."

Austin Public Health confirmed there are 15 local nursing homes, state facilities and shelters with clusters of COVID-19, where there have been nearly 400 confirmed cases and 38 residents who have died.

State data shows 514 long-term care residents have died from the virus, which is about 45% of all coronavirus deaths in Texas.

With COVID-19 still ravaging Texas nursing homes, some people, like Sanders, are looking for a new place to house their loved ones. That’s why they say knowing the names of the facilities with the virus could be life-saving.

"When you know if your loved one’s facility has an outbreak, then you are equipped with the proper information to make the choices that you need to make about your loved one," Sanders said.

CMS plans to start publishing that data by the end of the month, and the goal is to update the information weekly.

RELATED: Some nursing home staff worked with coronavirus symptoms, says state official

A spokesperson from Texas Health and Human Services sent the following statement in response to KVUE’s request for comment:

"We are working to release as much information as we are legally permitted to share publicly, in compliance with state and federal law. “As part of this process, HHSC has requested a ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office related to media requests for data on confirmed COVID-19 cases in HHSC-regulated facilities, identified by facility. I’m providing you a copy of that request for a ruling.

Regarding your question about the May 6 memo you referenced, CMS issued information indicating it will require nursing facilities to report information to the CDC and keep residents and their family members informed about conditions at the facilities. The directive indicates that CMS will put forth rules requiring this reporting to federal and state authorities. The information does not indicate CMS has imposed a reporting requirement on the state regulatory agency.”

WATCH: COVID-19 testing to increase at Texas nursing homes, Gov. Abbott says

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