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Republican lawmakers in Michigan are calling for an investigation into Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her handling of long-term care facilities during the pandemic.
Eight Republican state senators sent letters to acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday, according to the Daily Caller News Foundation. The lawmakers say that Whitmer’s approach to nursing homes is similar to that of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, currently at the center of a public firestorm over his handling of the pandemic and allegations he hid data to escape federal prosecution.
“There are too many similarities between what happened in New York and what’s happened here in Michigan not to open an investigation. The families who lost loved ones deserve to know what happened and to get justice,” Michigan state Sen. Jim Runestad, who is leading the push for scrutiny, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “At a time when we knew how dangerous the virus was to our seniors, the Whitmer administration ignored advice from medical experts and the nursing home industry, and put COVID patients into nursing homes with our most vulnerable.”
Whitmer has denied allegations that her orders worsened the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic within her state’s elderly population, claiming previously that she followed federal guidelines in crafting her orders.
Whitmer’s handling of long-term care facilities in the early days of the pandemic has sparked bipartisan backlash. Former state Rep. Leslie Love, a Democrat who retired from her seat last year due to term limits, grew critical of Whitmer after Love’s mother contracted COVID-19. Love’s mother was infected while living at one of a number of “regional hubs” designated by Whitmer’s administration to hold elderly coronavirus patients along with non-infected residents.
“Why the state of Michigan has chosen this path is beyond me,” Love said in May, referring to Whitmer’s nursing home plan. “It seems like the most idiotic thing we could come up with.”
About a third of Michigan’s COVID-19 death toll has come from long-term care facilities. According to state data reviewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation, 5,549 of 16,436 suspected and confirmed COVID-19 deaths across the state since the pandemic began took place in long-term care facilities.
In April of last year, Whitmer’s order forced nursing homes to take in COVID-positive residents from hospitals before the patients tested negative for the disease in a large number of cases, a mandate that has been likened to one issued by Cuomo. As The Daily Wire reports:
On April 15, Whitmer issued an executive order that critics say put nursing home residents at increased risk from the coronavirus by forcing patients hospitalized with the virus back into long-term care facilities ill-equipped to care for them.
Whitmer’s order set up regional hubs in long-term care facilities presumably equipped to care for coronavirus patients with minimal risk to non-COVID-19 residents. The strategy has gaps, however, as Love’s mother contracted the coronavirus while housed at one of the regional hubs.
The governor’s order also held that hospitalized nursing home residents should be returned to their original residence where possible to reduce strain on the hub system and reduce stress on elderly patients. Whitmer’s order required nursing homes “with a census below 80%” to “create a unit dedicated to the care of COVID-19-affected residents” with a group of staff assigned exclusively to it.
“Any long-term care facility that has a dedicated unit and provides appropriate [personal protective equipment (PPE)] to the direct-care employees who staff the dedicated unit must admit anyone that it would normally admit as a resident, regardless of whether the individual has recently been discharged from a hospital treating COVID-19 patients,” the order says.
The administration says that it never forced nursing homes to take coronavirus patients and that it left the choice up to nursing homes whether they could properly care for the patient or not. In a May 13 oversight committee hearing, Gordon and MDHHS Medical Services Administration Deputy Director Kate Massey asserted that hospital discharge to a nursing home is conditioned on appropriate staffing, PPE, and a dedicated unit.
“If those can’t be provided, then [accepting a recovering COVID-19 patient] is not required,” Massey said.