Daines asks state for more data on COVID-19 cases, deaths at senior facilities

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines is asking Gov. Steve Bullock’s office to release more information on COVID-19 cases and deaths within Montana’s senior care facilities.

Daines announced Friday that he had sent a letter to Bullock, saying the state’s data was giving “an incomplete picture of the impact of COVID-19 on Montana’s senior communities.”

“In order to help mitigate the number of lives lost moving forward, I encourage you to make public cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities by licensure category without further delay,” he said in the letter.

The letter pointed to an online report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonprofit focusing on health issues. It identified Montana as one of four states not reporting data on cases or deaths in long-term care facilities.

“This lack of reporting causes an information gap and hinders the ability for policy makers to produce comprehensive, effective solutions that will help combat the spread of this virus and prevent future deaths,” Daines said in his letter. “Transparency around COVID-19 data in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is critical to inform policy solutions that will help slow the spread, improve senior care, and save lives.”

The letter also highlighted an Aug. 13 New York Times article, which estimated 200 positive COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths in Montana long-term care facilities.

In Montana, “long-term care facility” specifically refers to facilities providing nursing care or services for those with developmental disabilities, and does not include assisted living facilities or retirement communities. However, the New York Times data includes all of those, and the Kaiser Family Foundation report combines nursing facilities, assisted living and other care facilities.

Several senior facilities in Montana have reported outbreaks of COVID-19, including the Canyon Creek Memory Care Community in Billings and the Marias Heritage Center in Shelby.

A spokesperson for Bullock’s office said the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has been working to put information on care facility cases on its website.

Bullock’s office released a letter he sent back to Sen. Daines Friday afternoon saying in part, “the Department of Health and Humans Services has been compiling the data you referred to long before your letter. They have been working diligently to collect and verify the data you ask for and more to ensure we continue providing the information needed to respond to this virus and uphold our commitment to transparency.”

You can read the Governor’s full letter here.

On Friday, DPHHS reported 311 COVID-19 cases and 33 COVID-related deaths in long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities. 41 of the state’s 291 facilities have experienced a positive case.

This exchange comes as Daines and Bullock are competing against each other in Montana’s U.S. Senate race.

***This story was updated to include both the letters, the response from Gov. Steve Bullock, and the state’s COVID data for long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities.***