MADISON -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Wednesday, April 29 unveiled a new dashboard tracking COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, workplaces and health care facilities -- showing 187 facility-based outbreaks in the state -- most of them in southeast Wisconsin. The data is significant, showing nearly one-third of all COVID-19 related deaths statewide have involved residents of long-term care facilities -- but there's something important missing from the dashboard.
There isn't much 91-year-old Irene hasn't tackled.
"She's been through a lot, but she keeps fighting," said Kynesha, Irene's granddaughter. "She keeps going."
Irene moved to Allis Care Center earlier this year -- with her granddaughter trying her best to help her grandmother tackle COVID-19 from the outside.
"I am supposed to be able to make the decisions that she's not able to make at this point," said Kynesha.
Health officials have investigated 93 outbreaks of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities in the state, including one with 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The median number of cases in each facility was six. There have been more investigations of outbreaks at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living centers, than any other type of facility in Wisconsin, the data released Wednesday showed.
After long-term care facilities, non-health care work places accounted for the next highest number of outbreaks with 48. Those include manufacturing and production facilities, distribution facilities, offices and other indoor work places.
There have been 25 investigations into outbreaks at group housing facilities and 11 at health care facilities. There have been 10 investigations into other work places including adult or child day care centers, restaurants, event spaces, and religious settings.
The new data does not include names of the facilities.
Kynesha said it's difficult to make decisions for her grandmother without knowing how many people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility. Officials with the West Allis/West Milwaukee Health Department said there's no procedure for a facility to notify residents or family members of positive cases, or even deaths.
"So I can try to make the best decisions for her," said Kynesha. "I think if I don't have all the other pieces of information, I really can't do that."
A records request on April 17 revealed the West Allis/West Milwaukee Health Department does not have plans to release that information, saying, "Federal and state law protects the privacy interests of health care records."
But Kynesha said doing so would help her decide what's best for her grandmother.
"They're taking away my ability to act on her behalf expeditiously," said Kynesha. "They don't take it serious."
An outbreak is defined as two or more cases in any given facility with the exception of long-term care facilities. There, one positive case triggers the outbreak classification and an investigation. Andrea Palm, DHS secretary-designee said the bar is low at long-term care facilities because the stakes are high. People who live and work in those types of facilities often belong to vulnerable populations.
"It is why one case is enough for us to wrap around that facility to make sure we are in very close contact with public health, to make sure they have what they need to do an investigation that ensures we stop the spread as quickly as possible," Palm said.
On April 19, President Donald Trump's administration announced new guidelines -- requiring nursing homes to inform residents and family members of positive cases within 12 hours, but that hasn't taken effect yet. Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday "additional details will be available in the rule that will be released in the coming days."
As for Allis Care Center, a spokeswoman told FOX6 News beginning May 4, they'll offer an automated daily briefing for those who sign up.
Below is a complete statement from Lauren Ashley German, spokeswoman for Exceptional Living Centers, the ownership group for Allis Care Center:
"Any family member who is concerned about a loved one can call 414-453-9290 and ask for Christina Said, Executive Director. However, we are only able to release patient information to the primary healthcare representative and it’s the responsibility of the representative to share updates with the rest of the family.
Beginning Monday, May 4, we are implementing automated phone calls to provide a daily briefing about what is happening in our community and all family members are welcome to sign up for this free service. We will continue to make personal phone calls to the primary healthcare representative in regards to healthcare updates of individual residents.
We are acting in full compliance with local and state guidelines in regards to reporting. The CMS guidance is a proposed guideline (see: “a rulemaking that will follow”) and we are awaiting further instructions. We will fully comply with all mandated guidelines as they are published.
Allis Care Center is unfortunately one of many healthcare centers around the world that has been affected by COVID-19. This only deepens our commitment to doing everything we can to protect the well-being of our patients and staff. We know we will get through this together and will emerge from it a stronger community.
For now, we continue this battle. We are encouraged by the outpouring of support and generosity from the Milwaukee County community and remain in awe of the frontline heroes working in our facility who remain devoted to our mission of care, compassion and love."