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Lansing – Republican lawmakers on Wednesday voiced concern about the safety of nursing home residents in facilities that also care for people recovering from the coronavirus, questioning policies adopted by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

At issue is a month-old executive order that lays out rules for the admission or readmission of people who test positive for COVID-19, the diseased caused by the virus. At least 687 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 complications, though the state indicated it may be higher – citing inaccurate data.

The GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee pressed top state officials on virus cases in nursing homes, where the elderly and those with serious health problems are among the most at risk.

Robert Gordon, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said at the hearing that the priority is to place COVID-19 residents in special regional “hub” nursing homes that can provide higher levels of care. More than 290 patients – either recovering from hospitalization or who were never hospitalized – are at 21 such facilities, but more beds are needed.

As a result, regular facilities that can safely isolate and care for virus-infected residents are doing so.

Sen. Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican, expressed concerns about residents at the hubs and other homes who don’t have COVID-19 and questioned if they are being adequately protected. She noted Whitmer’s order requires nursing homes below 80% bed capacity to create a unit dedicated to the care of the infected and to provide personal protective equipment to employees, “if available.”

“This doesn’t seem like the safest scenario for the seniors that are already in the home,” she said. “What we should be doing is looking at a safer alternative than putting COVID-positive patients in the same building with the most vulnerable among our population.”

Homes that can’t care for virus patients can seek their transfer to a hub, but it’s important to have dedicated units inside homes to avoid involuntary transfers that can result in psychological damage, cognitive decline and negative outcomes, officials said.

The order says if nursing homes and other long-term care facilities do not have a special COVID-19 unit or can’t provide PPE to staff, they must transfer infected residents to a hub or hospital.

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