ODH broke state public records law by not releasing nursing home COVID-19 deaths

A special master sided with WCPO in its complaint against the Ohio Department of Health last week, ruling that health officials violated the state’s public records law when they refused to release the number of COVID-19 deaths at a Cincinnati nursing home.

WCPO and other media outlets have been fighting for more transparency for nearly a year against state health officials, who refuse to say how many residents die of COVID-19 at each nursing home. Other states, such as Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia, openly release this information to the public.

“The Ohio Department of Health ignored it,” said WCPO’s attorney, Jack Greiner. “They just ignored that provision of the law, and they were called out for it by the special master.”

Attorneys for Ohio’s health department tried to argue that death information is private under state law. Special Master Jeff Clark disagreed, noting that the information is already available on death certificates, which are public records.

Joy Gazaway said that information would have helped her choose a nursing home for her 60-year-old brother, Donald Gazaway, who died last April of COVID-19, according to his death certificate. He died three weeks after he arrived at a Cincinnati nursing home to recover from a stroke.

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