79°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Nevada hospital reports kept secret amid coronavirus spread

Updated May 13, 2020 - 5:08 am

The Nevada Hospital Association has reportedly threatened to stop providing state health officials with daily reports detailing acute-care hospitals’ coronavirus activity, if those officials share the information with the public.

For almost four weeks, the Review-Journal has sought copies of the documents from state and local governments under Nevada’s Public Records Act in order to provide the information to the public. The NHA has refused to provide the reports, which are provided to Gov. Steve Sisolak and other top state officials as they make critical decisions during the COVID-19 outbreak by monitoring hospitals’ essential equipment usage, bed occupancy and staffing levels.

Insight into why the reports have not been produced was revealed on Friday in an email from Washoe County Health District spokesman Scott Oxarart.

“Because the NHA considers the documents to be confidential they have notified recipients that they will no longer provide these reports to any recipient who discloses the report,” Oxarart wrote in the email, which was written with the support of the Washoe County district attorney’s office. “The inability to receive or use these reports will result in the Washoe County Health District no longer providing critical information to Washoe County residents about hospital capacity, which is one of the most pertinent statistics that we provide in our daily Joint Information Center updates to the media and public.”

The daily spreadsheet, compiled by the hospital association and provided to government agencies, provides a hospital-by-hospital breakdown that includes the facilities’ occupancy rates, number of coronavirus patients and deaths, and inventories of N95 masks to protect front-line health care workers.

The report also tracks how well 38 acute-care hospitals across the state are staffed and how many of their doctors and intensive care nurses are out sick, according to one day’s report obtained by the Review-Journal from a confidential source. It contained no identifying information about patients or hospital staff.

Losing access to the information would hamper the health district’s ability to inform county residents and “possibly sever public trust,” Oxarart wrote.

Health district officials would need to continue discussions with the NHA before determining whether to produce the records, according to Oxarart. If the NHA did not agree to release the records, the health district “may object to production,” he wrote.

“We may be able to assist you in obtaining the information you need in a way that will not violate confidentiality, but will need to know how you plan to use the information,” Oxarart wrote.

In contrast to Oxarart’s claim, NHA spokeswoman Amy Shogren said Friday that the association had not advised or asked government agencies to withhold the hospital reports. Shogren did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the discrepancy.

Such an ultimatum to governments would fly in the face of the state’s public record laws, Nevada Open Government Coalition president Patrick File said.

While the hospital association is a private nonprofit that is not bound to respond to record requests, File said the daily reports became subject to the state’s public records act as soon as the government received copies.

“You have a private entity that’s not elected or granted authority by elected officials driving open-government decision making,” he said. “It’s surprising to me that a state government entity would cede that authority to a private entity.”

Nevada Press Association executive director Richard Karpel agreed with File’s assessment. He said the reports could be used to inform the public in a number of ways, including to disprove conspiracy theories that have equated near-empty hospital parking lots with proof the coronavirus is a hoax.

“That’s the kind of conspiratorial thinking that happens when people don’t have information,” he said. “I think people want to know what’s going on at the hospital near them.”

No personal information

Instead of making its full daily reports public, the NHA has released summary statistics showing daily occupancy rates and ventilator usage rates for Southern, Northern and rural Nevada.

The nonprofit trade group also publishes a summary graphic on its website charting the total number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients hospitalized across Nevada by day.

Shogren wrote in an email to a Review-Journal reporter on April 23 that releasing the full daily reports “could adversely affect the public’s perception of where these cases are being treated.”

“There are several other reasons NOT to provide hospital-specific data including that the media likes to sensationalize information — that is unfortunate,” she continued. “Outside of this pandemic, it is our Association’s policy to never provide hospital-specific data.”

Shogren wrote in her email that her comments were “off the record,” but the reporter did not agree to go off record.

In a followup email sent Friday, Shogren said that the trade group’s information had “been taken out of context on previous occasions.” She said the NHA plans to “repackage hospital data beginning next week in a format that can be shared by all recipients and understood by the public.”

Records act violation

The Review-Journal first requested the daily reports from state officials on April 6.

The state did not acknowledge the request within five business days — a violation of the Nevada Public Records Act. When a reporter notified the state that it was in violation of the law, a legal analyst in Sisolak’s office replied that it would take “eight to ten weeks” for the office to compile and release the records.

No reason was provided for why it would take at least two months to release the records.

Sisolak on Thursday sounded surprised to hear the public record request would take so long to fulfill. He said Nevada agencies had been “inundated” with record requests about the coronavirus outbreak, and staff members were working to disseminate records as quickly as possible.

“I don’t know who told you it will take two months to produce the report,” he said. “We will get them to you in as timely a manner as possible, and I will ask about your request if someone told you eight weeks.”

The Review-Journal requested the records from the Southern Nevada Health District on April 17. Health district attorney Heather Anderson-Fintak said she could not immediately produce the records because they “were not created by the Southern Nevada Health District, but provided to us pursuant to the current public health emergency.”

In a followup email on Friday, she wrote that her agency plans to release the records by May 15. The health district came to the decision after state officials did not object to the release of the documents.

“However, the Nevada Hospital Association does have within its ability to file an injunction in court regarding the proposed release,” she wrote.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Davidson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders drops out of 2020 Democratic race for president - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont officially announced an end to his 2020 presidential bid on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic National Convention postponed - VIDEO
The Democratic National Convention was set to take place over four days in the middle of July. Democratic officials have now confirmed the convention will take place the week of Aug. 17. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson allows immediate sale of alcohol with curbside pickup - VIDEO
The city of Henderson decided Thursday evening to allow alcohol to be sold by restaurants as part of their curbside pickup service during the COVID-19 crisis. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak signs order banning any gathering of 10 or more people - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed a new order banning any gathering of 10 or more people in Nevada in another step the state has taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Takeaways from the president's daily briefing on coronavirus - VIDEO
RJ Washington correspondent Debra Saunders talks about today's daily White House news conference regarding the coronavirus outbreak, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judicial Department 5 Debate - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hosts a debate between the 3 candidates running for Department 5 in Clark County District Court. Participating are Veronica M. Barisich, Terry A. Coffing and Blair Cowan Parker.
Trump cancels Las Vegas trip because of ‘coronavirus outbreak’ - VIDEO
President Donald Trump canceled planned travel to Las Vegas ‘out of an abundance of caution’ amid virus outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump signs $8.3 billion coronavirus package - VIDEO
President Trump signed a bill providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreaK, Friday, March 6, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Cortez Masto shows support for Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto shows her support for senior state District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench in Nevada. (Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto)
Sen. Rosen supports Judge Togliatti - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen shows her support for Nevada Judge Jennifer Togliatti to be appointed to the federal bench. (Sen. Jacky Rosen)
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews resigns following series of controversies - VIDEO
The "Hardball" host announced his departure Monday night, March 2, 2020, effective immediately. The anchor recently came under fire for comparing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victory in the Nevada caucasus to the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Candidates file for office in Clark County - VIDEO
Amy Klobuchar drops out of 2020 presidential race - VIDEO
On March 2, campaign officials announced Amy Klobuchar’s decision to suspend her presidential bid. The news comes on the eve of Super Tuesday and just one day after Pete Buttigieg also announced his decision to depart from the race. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST