Michigan’s health department is expected to roll out a comprehensive data set of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on long-term care facilities across the state on Friday, about two months after the state entered lockdown.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has been compiling and verifying data for over two weeks from local health officials and long-term care facilities across the state. The enhanced coronavirus tracking comes as Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer faces accusations that her policies have worsened the spread of COVID-19 among the state’s vulnerable elderly population.
The new MDHHS dashboard showing COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and other care centers was expected to be rolled out sometime this week, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon testified on May 13. By Thursday afternoon, the dashboard still was not operational, but displaying a message that “nursing facility data will be available once the transition period has ended and data appropriately validated.” The message says the transition period ended on May 25, and an MDHHS spokeswoman told The Daily Wire that the state plans “to begin reporting data” on Friday.
Reports suggest that the carnage in nursing homes is high. On Wednesday, Gordon reported early data on COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing homes in the metro Detroit area, the epicenter for the disease in the state. Local health officials in Detroit, as well as Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties had confirmed 1,372 COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing homes, alone making up 33% of the Michigan’s total number of fatalities from the virus, according to Local 4.
State Rep. Leslie Love, a Democrat, was outraged at the report. Love’s mother lives in a nursing home and has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Why the state of Michigan has chosen this path is beyond me,” Love said, referring to Whitmer’s nursing home plan. “It seems like the most idiotic thing we could come up with.”
Once the dashboard is up, the state will get its first real look at how badly the virus has hit Michigan’s elderly since the pandemic began. For some Michigan lawmakers, the tracker has taken an unacceptably long time to arrive.
“Our nursing home population is better tracked than almost any other population in the entire state,” GOP state Sen. Lana Theis said in an oversight committee hearing on May 20. The spread of COVID-19 in elderly care homes “should have been already being tracked, and I just want to express my shock that we are in the scenario that we are in right now with [the MDHHS] unable to give us those numbers.”
Whitmer took one of her first steps to combat the coronavirus on March 10, declaring a state of emergency after the first two cases of COVID-19 were identified in the state. On March 24, Whitmer enacted her first stay-at-home order and has since extended that order for most of the state through June 12.
Whitmer’s administration began consulting with nursing home representatives sometime in mid-March, according to Senate testimony from two of those representatives on May 20. The governor held off taking directed action to protect nursing homes for about a month. 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.
In an exchange with Theis during the May 13 hearing, Gordon pointed to Section 3, Part B of the executive order, which states (emphasis added): “The long-term care facility of origin must accept the return of the resident, provided it can meet the medical needs of the resident and there are no statutory grounds to refuse the return, as soon as capacity allows.”
Critics have compared Whitmer’s April 15 order to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home policy that required elderly care facilities to take in recovering coronavirus patients whether or not they tested positive for the virus. Cuomo eventually rescinded his order on May 10 and continues to be embroiled in scandal. Whitmer extended her order days later on May 13. On May 20, Whitmer issued an updated order with stricter oversight of nursing homes.
That order remains in place until June 17.
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