New Michigan numbers: 34% of COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing homes

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — One of every three deaths linked to COVID-19 in Michigan was a nursing home patient, according to the results of a new "extensive data validation effort" by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The department announced on Monday testing requirements for the facilities and revealed it has tracked 1,947 deaths among patients in nursing facilities and 20 deaths among staff.

Two weeks ago, the department, which has experienced problems getting all of the facilities in the state to report information, pegged the number at 1,505 deaths. Since then, employees completed an effort by phone to gather more comprehensive data.

A sign at the Ingham County Medical Care Facility, one of the state's nursing homes, in Okemos is pictured on Friday, June 5, 2020.

The percentage of Michigan's COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes was "generally consistent" with what's been reported in other states, said Robert Gordon, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Numbers tracked by four neighboring states — Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin — showed higher percentages of overall COVID-19 deaths in their long-term care facilities. However, multiple states reported they were tracking deaths linked to nursing homes as well as other facilities, like assisted living facilities.

Michigan's tracking doesn't include assisted living facilities, adult foster care facilities and homes for the aged.

Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, said the state's new data showed Michigan was below the national average for COVID-19 deaths in nursing facilities but "too many of Michigan’s seniors have paid the ultimate price." The Kaiser Family Foundation has reported the average percentage of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities in states across the country at about 45%.

As of Sunday, there had been 7,163 cases among patients in nursing facilities and 3,133 cases among staff, according to the new Michigan data. The numbers covered all but one of the state's 447 nursing facilities, Gordon said.

In addition to releasing the figures Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration unveiled new testing requirements for the facilities. The administration has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers for its handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are aggressively focused on doing everything we can to reduce the loss of life moving forward," Gordon told reporters Monday.

A new executive order requires nursing facilities to test all residents and staff initially, to test all returning residents and to test any resident or staff member with symptoms or suspected exposure.

Also, facilities with any positive cases must test all previously negative residents and staff weekly until 14 days after the last new positive result.

“As we continue working to protect Michigan families from the spread of COVID-19 and lower the chance of a second wave, we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable Michiganders and those frontline workers who care for them,” Whitmer said in a press release. "Continuous testing and proper staffing are crucial to that effort."

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also announced it will organize "direct support for rapid response staff" who can provide immediate assistance to long-term care facilities facing urgent staffing shortages due to COVID-19.

Robert Gordon

Gordon, the department's director, said there were concerns that the increased testing requirements would lead to staffing problems because of people not being able to work after testing positive.

Beginning in southeast and west Michigan, the department will help to make available, for up to 14 days, registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, personal care aides and other key staff, according to a press release.

The department also is coordinating with Doctors Without Borders to help identify long-term care facilities in need of assistance with their infection prevention and control practices.

The efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services to gather information on nursing home cases and deaths also involved ensuring that facilities were aware of state and federal reporting requirements.

The new emergency order formally establishes penalties for noncompliance to ensure timely and accurate data reporting. Facilities that do not report required data are subject to a $1,000 fine for each violation or for each day that a violation continues, according to a press release.

As of Monday, the state had reported 6,017 deaths statewide linked to the virus as of Monday.

The Michigan Senate Oversight Committee has held five hours of hearings on the handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. Much of Republican lawmakers' criticism has focused on decisions to care for residents with COVID-19 in facilities where there are also residents without the virus.

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, called on Whitmer to testify before the Legislature about the decisions related to nursing homes.

"Due to Gov. Whitmer's failed policies regarding nursing homes, nursing home residents make up more than 34% of those who have lost their fight to the COVID-19 virus," Cox said Monday. "These shocking numbers come even though nursing home residents comprise less than 1% of Michigan residents."