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Names of long-term care facilities not released in AZ, it's not violation of HIPAA

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Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 22:12:04-04

PHOENIX — The names of long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases are not being released in the state of Arizona, but it's not a violation of HIPAA if the individual identity is not released.

On Tuesday, a reporter asked a personal question for Dr. Cara Christ, why can't he know if the long-term care facility his mother is in, has a positive COVID-19 case.

The reporter asked Dr. Christ what is it in HIPAA that precludes the public from knowing this information.

"The address where a facility where someone would live would be protected health information," Dr. Christ said, "if your mother was the only one at the Terrace's that had COVID-like illness anybody at the Terrace's then could identify that was the patient."

But, then after a follow up question, the state's public health director talked about identifying a case in a facility, "we will be working with the facilities to make sure that they are working with their resident and the families and the loved ones to let them know about what's going on in that facility," said Dr. Christ.

ABC15 has put in a public records request with the state for the names of facilities, but to be clear, we did not request the names of individuals.

This is information that other states are reporting, like Nevada, where they just launched a new database detailing the number of cases and names of the facilities.

States like Ohio, and Louisiana have also released names as well.

This week AARP of Arizona with 900,000 members sent a letter to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey about transparency in cases in long-term care facilities, and they requested names be released.

"AARP suggests that HIPAA is specific to the privacy of the individual and and does not apply to facilities," the letter stated.


Although public health officials won't confirm names of businesses or addresses, the businesses are.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed the Westchester Senior Living Tivoli Memory Care Unit in Tempe had a positive case and the resident is hospitalized.

"Our hearts go out to them and their family during this difficult time," a spokesperson wrote in an email, "our hearts go out to them and their family during this difficult time."

Volunteers of America who runs the senior living center said their staff has been following CDC protocols and are working with public health officials.

Those same public health officials are the ones who will not release the name of their business.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine with Maricopa County Public Health said they will not release the names of facilities because they don't want to break the trust in the reporting system.

"It's important however to focus on making sure these facilities are comfortable reaching out and working with public health so they continue to share when they have suspect cases," said Dr. Sunenshine.

Maricopa County is releasing public information on the number of cases in long-term care facilities.

On Wednesday, all six deaths in the past 24 hours in the county were inside long-term care facilities.

There are a total of 42 long-term care facilities with positive cases.

Will Humble, the state's former public health director, said releasing names of facilities is a fine line to walk, "to me that's getting a little too close to disclosing private information."