It puzzles the imagination to believe long-term nursing facilities with years-long histories of violations became instantly compliant while simultaneously reporting the highest infection rates for COVID-19.
Apparently, that's the idea Oklahoma State Health Department officials are selling while erecting obstacles to those seeking access to inspectors and their reports. A review of the agency's inspection data conducted by Oklahoma Watch revealed many reports have yet to be published to where reports typically post once they are completed.
A lifelong advocate for nursing home residents told Oklahoma Watch the absence of violations during a pandemic exemplifies the apathy of state leaders and jeopardizes Oklahomans most vulnerable to this pandemic. Even more egregious is the findings of state inspections are being withheld at the same time access to residents is restricted by pandemic protocols.
Esther Houser, who helps state lawmakers develop policy designed to protect aging Oklahomans, told Oklahoma Watch the few reports that are available show a “ridiculous lack of enforcement.” It is indicative of violations being overlooked or omitted from the record at facilities with high infection rates.
It is possible heightened concerns about the novel coronavirus and its threat to public safety prompted vigilance and the diligent use of personal protective gear. But widespread shortages of PPE during the early weeks of the pandemic make the latter a little less likely.
As managers of one facility that experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 told the nonprofit news organization, the novel coronavirus "is both highly contagious and easily spread ... despite every effort on the part of facilities." And a spokesman for the for-profit nursing home industry noted the presence of virus is not indicative of poor management practices.
We agree, but the concealment of potential problems presents more of a threat than a solution. Oversight is an important government function — ignoring that role in an attempt to be "business friendly" could erode consumers' trust and confidence and further cripple the economy.