Whitmer updates order for nursing homes, care facilities amid pandemic

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Wednesday updating and clarifying directives for nursing homes to provide that residents affected by COVID-19 only be discharged from a hospital to a facility capable of safely isolating the resident.

Whitmer's updated order clarifies conditions for nursing homes and care facilities to care for residents affected by COVID-19.

The order is in effect through June 17.

It also requires that all hospital discharges align with federal and state health guidelines while authorizing the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs "to take actions necessary to assure the proper level of care and services," according to a release from the Governor's Office.

“It’s critical that employees at long-term care facilities have access to the resources they need so they can properly care for our loved ones, and that COVID-19-positive residents have a safe place to recover while isolating from other residents,” Whitmer said. “These employees put their lives on the line every day to care for our most vulnerable residents, and we owe it them to do whatever we can to ensure their safety and the safety of the people they care for.”

The order requires long-term care facilities to take specific precautions when a resident shows symptoms of COVID-19, including informing employees. It also protects residents from eviction and employees from disciplinary action for staying home when showing symptoms of the virus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic poses a particularly dire threat to the health and safety of residents and employees of long-term care facilities,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “This Executive Order will ensure residents of long-term care facilities get the care they need while mitigating the spread of COVID-19 to protect other residents and employees at the facility.”

Whitmer's original order, signed last month, had been extended through Wednesday. It mandated that nursing homes with less than 80% capacity create dedicated isolation units for COVID-19-affected residents.

The policy drew criticism from state Sen. Peter Lucido, who sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel seeking separate probes about the mandate that some nursing homes set space aside to treat residents.

The Shelby Township Republican said the mandates are "exposing and endangering this vulnerable population and their caregivers to the very virus from which we had hoped to protect them."

"I believe that this reckless and negligent policy, which was instituted despite the written opposition of the Health Care Association of Michigan, has resulted in the illness and death of many of Michigan’s elderly and infirm residents, who otherwise would have been (protected) from exposure to the COVID-19 virus," he said.

Whitmer's revised order Wednesday said: "A nursing home must make all reasonable efforts to create a unit dedicated to the care and isolation of COVID-19-affected residents," or reasonable unit. It also "must not create or maintain a dedicated unit unless it can implement effective and reliable infection control procedures."

"To ensure these units provide a safe environment that can meet the medical needs of COVID-19-affected residents, the order clarifies that nursing homes that create such units must provide adequate PPE to the direct care employees responsible for staffing the units and implement reliable and effective infection procedures," Whitmer's office said.

Representatives did not immediately respond to questions about the revisions Wednesday night.

Last week, the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee pressed top state officials on virus cases in nursing homes, where senior citizens and those with serious health problems are among the most at risk, the Associated Press reported.

Republican lawmakers voiced concern during the hearing about the safety of nursing home residents in facilities that also care for people recovering from the coronavirus, according to the AP.

Nursing homes account for at least a third of the nation’s 76,000 Covid-19 fatalities, and in 14 states they’re more than half the total, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data this month, Bloomberg reported.

According to state data, there were more than 2,300 COVID cases at Michigan long-term care facilities through Tuesday.