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News groups sue Arizona to get nursing home virus data

May 5, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — A group of Phoenix-area media organizations sued the state of Arizona on Tuesday for records detailing coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The public records lawsuit filed by attorneys representing the Arizona Republic, ABC15 (KNXV-TV), 12 News (KPNX-TV), CBS 5 (KPHO-TV) and 3 TV (KTVK) seeks the names of nursing homes with outbreaks.

The state and counties have refused to name individual facilities, citing patient privacy interests. The state does list the basic number of long-term care facilities with cases, reporting at least 123 with outbreaks statewide. Nursing homes have been hard hit by the virus, and some facilities have confirmed news reports that they have experienced large outbreaks, including a Chandler assisted facility that said 13 residents have died.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has pushed back on requests for more information on nursing homes and on Monday outlined more reporting to families with loved-ones living in the facilities.

The lawsuit comes as the number of virus cases and deaths in the state continues to climb, and as Ducey eases store and restaurant closings. He said Monday that hair salons and barber shops could reopen Friday and restaurants open on Monday, with extra cleaning and social distancing. A stay-home order, however, remains in effect until May 15.

State officials reported 33 additional virus deaths in Arizona, increasing the total to 395 as of Tuesday. The number of reported cases rose by 386 to more than 9,300, according to the Department of Health Services.

The state also has agreed to give $3.6 million in crisis money to the only hospital in Green Valley after the coronavirus pandemic threatened the facility’s future.

“This grant does make all the difference. ... all of us were worried,” Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital CEO Kelly Adams told The Arizona Republic. “We rose our hand early in the process, and the governor’s team was able to help us out.”

Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital has already received a $1.1 million payment under a deal with the state, and has setup another account to receive a second $1 million payment, Adams said. Two more payments of $1.5 million are scheduled to be paid within three weeks, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

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The money will most immediately be used to pay staff and suppliers, Adams said, adding that it will come from the state COVID-19 Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund, which calls for the independently owned hospital to pay back $100,000 and conduct an independent audit of its finances.

The hospital, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Tucson, has agreed to the contract under multiple conditions including staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no payments to owners or shareholders and a 20% pay cut for executives.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.