As if we needed further proof that COVID-19 does not discriminate in favor of the famous, we learn that one of the National Football League’s record-setting field goal kickers has just died from COVID-19 complications in a New Orleans nursing home. 73-year old Tom Dempsey, who was born without fingers on his right hand and part of his right foot and yet kicked what was in 1970 the longest field goal (63 yards) in NFL history, died April 4 in New Orleans’ Lambeth House retirement home, where he had been a resident since 2012.
The State of Louisiana has become notorious for its initial unwillingness to take COVID-19 as seriously as other states, and now, predictably is paying the price, becoming one of the states with the fastest-growing rates of COVID-19 infections and related deaths. Included among the alarming number of Louisiana deaths are 15 residents of Lambeth House, where Dempsey had been a resident. 50 of its residents have tested positive for the virus, as of the date of Dempsey’s death.
But, rather than try to recover from its early ignorance, and get ahead of the virus through competence and transparency, the State of Louisiana has instead opted for shameful secrecy. Specifically, it has just reversed its previous policy and now will no longer make public the names of the nursing homes identified as having “clusters” of COVID-19. A “cluster” is defined as two or more related COVID-19 cases—information that is extremely valuable not only to public health officials but also to families whose loved ones are in one of the state’s nursing homes. Now, Louisiana will merely publish a list of the homes where there are confirmed infections and deaths. And it will now provide this information only twice a week, instead of daily, as had been its practice.
A state health official refused to say whether the change in policy was the result of lobbying by Louisiana’s politically powerful nursing home industry, a generous contributor to politicians of both parties.
You can see why the industry’s lobbyists would be alarmed: Louisiana’s nursing home infections and deaths are sky-rocketing. As of April 3, 60 residents had died from the virus, and 261 had tested positive. The number of deaths is a whopping 16% of the state’s death total related to COVID-19.
But the secrecy is exactly the wrong response, and it is a disgrace. It deprives spouses, children, and grandchildren of valuable information they deserve to have about the safety of their loved one’s living conditions. It takes the pressure to provide better, safer care off of nursing homes, at a time when the pressure may be necessary to improve residents’ conditions. And the secrecy—especially since it appears it may have been undertaken at the insistence of powerful lobbyists– surely only breeds suspicion, and causes the public and families dependent on nursing homes to understandably lose confidence in them.
Let’s hope that Louisiana reverses this terrible policy, or that a Louisiana court does it for them.