Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer — once on the short list to be former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 Democratic presidential election — is the latest official to come under fire for a policy requiring some nursing homes and other adult care facilities to take COVID-19 patients, many of whom are still suffering with the after-effects of the viral infection and could be contagious.
Thanks to a Detroit lawmaker who blew the whistle on the policy, according to the Detroit News — enacted by Whitmer in an executive order — Michigan Republicans are now investigating whether the governor put elderly Michigan residents at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, and whether her order perpetuated Michigan’s ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Michigan has been putting long-term care patients recovering from the virus in the same facilities with patients who don’t have the virus,” the Detroit News reported Monday, adding that Whitmer’s executive order “requires seniors who are positive for COVID-19 to be brought to the TCF Center in Detroit or to ‘regional hubs,’ which are nursing homes where the state says there has to be separation of the COVID-19 positive and negative patients.”
The TCF Center was an overflow coronavirus hospital located in a convention center — a hospital that has since wrapped up operations, forcing patients who might have been cared for by TCF Center nurses to enter “regional hubs.”
A local NBC affiliate, though, found that private nursing care facilities were also being forced to receive COVID-19 patients.
“The Department of Health and Human Services gave Local 4 more insight into its regional hub system. There are now 21 of them. The state is paying these homes $5,000 per COVID-19 positive case they take,” WDIV Detroit reported. “We also learned that there are some nursing homes taking these patients that do not have the same strict separation policies that regional hubs are required to have. Only about half of the state’s nursing homes have been inspected since the policy went into effect last month.”
As in New York, nursing homes must accept the COVID-19 positive patients or face repercussions, and despite Federal provisions requiring separation, many nursing homes are unable to ensure there is distance between positive patients and the general adult care population, leaving many long-term residents exposed. Funding, as well as staffing, has been an ongoing issue for adult care facilities in both states.
New York finally reversed its policy over the weekend, with Governor Andrew Cuomo admitting that the program led to widespread coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and ordering routine testing and inspections for most adult care facilities suffering through the pandemic.
Detroit Democrat Leslie Love, a Michigan state legislator, says the practice should end in Michigan as well.
“To return seniors into an environment, seniors with the virus still recovering from the virus, into an environment with, well, seniors, just didn’t seem — it’s not a good idea,” she told the Detroit News, adding that her mother is in a nursing home and recently had to be tested for the virus. “That would break my heart [if she contracted COVID-19] because I’ve been on the front lines of this, trying to make sure our seniors — my mother, your mother, anybody else’s mother — does not get sick and die from this, particularly if they’re in a nursing home.”
A Michigan legislative panel is now reviewing Whitmer’s order, according to local outlets. Legislators have already expressed serious concerns with the practice.
“We are forcing nursing homes to take new COVID patients, assuming they have a census below 80%,” one legislator told media. “This doesn’t seem like the safest scenario for seniors already in the home.”
Michigan has not seen many nursing home deaths from coronavirus, but the state’s Director of Health and Human Services told the legislative panel this week that he doesn’t believe the official numbers are accurate. The New York Times reported late last week that of the 18,000 COVID-19 cases in Wayne County, the county that houses Detroit, around 3,000 are in nursing homes.
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