Rep. Steve Scalise accused Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of “stonewalling” House Republicans for rejecting a request to testify over her state’s pandemic policies for long-term care facilities.
Scalise (R-LA) is the top Republican on the House committee on the coronavirus crisis. Republicans on the committee are pushing a handful of governors, including the Democrat Whitmer, to answer for the significant coronavirus death toll among nursing home residents in their states.
The governor rebuffed a request by the GOP to appear before the committee and answer questions on her nursing home policies, which a bipartisan group of state lawmakers say has made the pandemic’s effects on nursing homes worse. Whitmer accused Scalise in a letter on Friday of Congressional overreach, also noting that the committee’s Republicans, as the minority, lacked authority to use subpoena powers without Democrats on the committee approving.
“I hope that as members of a federal body tasked with oversight of the federal executive branch during this unprecedented public health crisis you refrain from encroaching on the sovereign power of a state government to deal with state matters,” Whitmer said, according to the Detroit News.
Scalise responded to Whitmer in a statement saying: “We will continue to call on our Democrat colleagues to join us in getting to the bottom of this and look for other ways to obtain the information being withheld. Her stonewalling will not deter us from getting the answers these families deserve.”
Just under a third of Michigan’s total fatalities from the coronavirus were nursing home residents. The state reports that 1,979 residents in long-term care facilities have died from Covid-19 while, according to Johns Hopkins University, 6,079 people have died from the virus overall.
State lawmakers have blamed Whitmer’s policies for increasing the disease fatality rate in one of the state’s most vulnerable populations. Michigan followed a strategy similar to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo placing hospitalized coronavirus patients back into nursing homes before they test negative for the disease.
Last week, Michigan’s Senate and House passed resolutions condemning Whitmer and calling for her to end her administration’s nursing home strategy, which turns select nursing homes into “hubs” housing patients infected and uninfected with the coronavirus. The facilities are approved by the state, presumably with the ability to safely house both types of patients. Reports suggest that the hubs are failing to limit the spread of coronavirus, however.
State Rep. Leslie Love, a Democrat, told legislators last month that her mother, who lives in one of the hubs, contracted the coronavirus after infected patients moved into the facility.
According to Michigan health department guidance, the hub system was designed to be used as a last resort, and nursing home residents hospitalized for the virus were to be placed back in their original care facility if the facility could care for them. Early confusion in the law left nursing home operators unsure of how much say they had in rejecting coronavirus patients from returning to facilities, however.
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