After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Oklahoma’s long-term care facilities are beginning to reopen to visitors. It could still be weeks or months before families are reunited. 

Last March, nursing homes, assisted living communities, veteran centers and other long-term care facilities closed their doors to visitors to protect vulnerable residents. Annual inspections were halted to limit the number of people coming and going. Even the state’s ombudsmen, resident advocates who investigate and resolve complaints against facilities, were shut out for months.

Oklahoma Watch is marking Sunshine Week (March 14-20) with a series of stories promoting open government.

But outbreaks were imminent. 

More than 13,000 residents and workers have contracted COVID-19, according to the state’s latest report. At least 1,224 have died.

Following requests from Oklahoma Watch, the state health department began releasing COVID-19 infection and death numbers by facility to the public. But the numbers provided little insight into why outbreaks were hitting some facilities harder than others.   

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For a year, many facilities have been operating in the dark allowing few outsiders in. Among them were state health department staff. 

Surveyors inspected more than 650 facilities statewide to ensure that workers were following new infection protocols — including the use of protective equipment, hand hygiene and quarantine guidelines — and recorded violations. 

These reports are public. For families, they can provide rare information about how well their loved ones are being cared for during the pandemic. The state health department posts the reports to its website surveys.health.ok.gov

The site is searchable only by facility, which limits broad searches. The reports are brief, with little detail when facilities are found in compliance. But details abound if violations are recorded.

The site also provides licensing and certification documents, ownership reports, complaint investigations and communication from federal regulators. 

In the video below, I explain what is available on the state’s website, how to find it and what it means.

For more than a year, family members of nursing home residents have been navigating care from the outside. Facilities closed their doors to visitors leaving loved ones in the dark about how residents are being cared for during the pandemic. State records can provide insight into a facility’s operations for visitors who remain locked out. In this video, Whitney Bryen, multimedia reporter for Oklahoma Watch, identifies which records are public and how to find them.

Whitney Bryen is an investigative reporter and visual storyteller at Oklahoma Watch with an emphasis on domestic violence, mental health and nursing homes affected by COVID-19. Contact her at (405) 201-6057 or wbryen@oklahomawatch.org. Follow her on Twitter @SoonerReporter.


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