COLUMBUS — A stunning admission from state health officials: those in charge of tracking the coronavirus in Ohio claim they have no idea which nursing homes have had COVID-19 deaths.
Deaths in nursing homes account for more than half of Ohio's 7,187 COVID-19 deaths. More than 3,800 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 and we do not know where, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The revelation follows a joint investigation with our partner Scripps station, WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, that first began last August and resulted in a lawsuit filed in the Ohio Court of Claims seeking health department records identifying how many have died in the more than 900 individual nursing homes across the state.
Ohio only released total nursing home deaths by county, unlike other states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana that make pubic the total number of COVID-19 death by individual facilities.
In court documents seeking to dismiss the case, the Ohio Department of Health argues "the records do not exist".
Jack Greiner is a Scripps attorney who has filed a motion opposing the health department's efforts to dismiss the case, arguing that failure to produce the records "suggests rank incompetence at ODH" adding that "the statement does not appear to be true" based on additional information in the form of an affidavit obtained by Scripps.
By failing to report COVID-19 deaths by individual nursing homes, the public has no idea how safe a facility may be.
Paula Mueller heads up Elderly Advocates, a group that seeks to help families with loved ones in nursing homes; she says these records should be released.
"The most important reason that families need this information to make informed decisions on where they might place a loved one," Mueller said.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit seeking records in the public interest continues and it could be at least a month before a judge rules on our request for information.