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Is Pence Exerting Influence?

Published on May 16th, 2020

Indiana officials announced last month that they would continue to withhold COVID-19 nursing home data from the public, instead relying on the more than 530 facilities to report information directly to residents’ families. Many other states, including all four of Indiana’s neighbors, have opted to publish facility-level data on nursing home cases and deaths attributed to to COVID-19.

Indiana’s secrecy, ordered by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration, “reeks of cronyism” and is a disservice to Hoosiers and their families, advocates say. Holcomb has stupidly defended his stance by incorrectly stating the nursing homes are private businesses. More than 90% of Indiana’s nursing homes are owned by county hospitals, which are units of local government. They are also heavily dependent on public money, receiving billions in Medicaid and Medicare payments each year.

IndyStar’s investigation also found that over the last 20 years, those hospitals have diverted more than $1 billion in federal nursing home payments to other projects unrelated to the nursing homes. And those massive diversions have continued since 2016 with the support of Holcomb’s administration.

Indiana officials finally agreed to share regular weekly updates on nursing homes, but only statewide, aggregate numbers — and nothing about individual facilities. The concession follows weeks of growing pressure and new regulations from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Despite the new requirements, some families say they are still being given the runaround when it comes to the number of positive cases and deaths. And Lynn Clough, who leads the state’s long-term care ombudsman program, reports “the majority of local ombudsmen around the state are experiencing an increase in calls with questions and complaints from frustrated family members not receiving information they seek regarding their loved ones.”

Why does Indiana continue to make family members fight with nursing homes for information that is readily available in other states?

A quick search of Indiana campaign finance records shows Holcomb’s campaign has received at least $100,000 from nursing home operators. That includes donations to Team Holcomb, his joint fundraising committee with the Indiana Republican Party.

A governor should not have anything to do with shielding safety information from the public. Nursing homes are heavily regulated and must disclose detailed data to the government.

 

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