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N4T Investigators: Pandemic secrets

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TUCSON - Jeannie Tucker is afraid that her 97-year-old mother will get the coronavirus.

Tucker recently pulled her mom, Francis, out of an assisted living facility and is taking care of her at home.

“We can’t make rational and well thought-out decisions of where to place our elders and how to manage their care if we don’t have the information as to where the outbreaks are and how many,” Jeannie told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Tucker is outraged that the state health department refuses to order nursing homes and long-term care facilities to disclose how many cases of COVID-19 that they have. She thinks the state fears angering an industry that provides it with millions in revenues and taxes.

“It is, unfortunately, all about the money,” Tucker said. “And that’s shameful. Especially when it comes to the most vulnerable of our population.”

David Bodney, a long time First Amendment attorney, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of several news organizations against the state department of health and its director, Dr. Cara Christ, demanding that the numbers be made public.

“The state has the information and yet it’s concealing it from us,” Bodney said.

The news outlets have said the public has a right to know how many residents of every nursing home have COVID-19.

State officials said releasing the numbers would be a breach of personal information.

“This is not a case for any patient or resident’s specific health information. We’re not asking for the names of any of these residents,” Bodney responded.

The state declined additional comment, citing the pending litigation.

Gov. Ducey did sign an executive order saying anyone with a relative in one of the facilities who comes down with the virus would be notified, as would someone in the facility where others tested positive.

However, Jeannie Tucker said that doesn’t help families to decide the best place for their loved one.

“If you have a transparency of information, and I go look for a facility, and facility A has a bunch of wonderful things they’ve been doing, and facility B has had a lot of outbreaks, I’m going to facility A,” Tucker said.

A handful of nursing homes have released the information to the public.

A spokesperson for Sapphire of Tucson told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that 57 of its 114 residents have tested positive for the virus, as have 37 staff members.

Sapphire's spokesperson said all the staff members have recovered.

Life Care Center of Tucson said 21 of its 77 residents have tested positive and two have died.

The Arizona chapter of the American Association for Retired Persons recently sent a letter to Ducey stating that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, does not apply in this case.

“The bottom line is we are in a crisis and we need to over-communicate with people," said Dana Kennedy, AARP Arizona director. "And where the first outbreak was in Washington State, the facility actually did daily press conferences.”

Tucker takes care of her mother full time.

"I was raised with the Greatest Generation," Tucker said. "They deserve every bit of love and honor that we can provide.”

The state health department has until May 15 to reply to the claim.

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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