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Michigan House OKs bill keeping COVID-19 patients out of nursing homes

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan House approved Wednesday a bill that would direct elderly people with COVID-19 away from nursing homes and into designated care facilities, a challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's nursing home order.

If the Senate concurs on the bill, the legislation would be sent to Whitmer, where she is expected to veto it. 

The bill, which was approved by the House 74-34, bans nursing homes from admitting or retaining an individual starting Sept. 1 who tests positive for COVID-19 unless the person had recovered or unless a nursing home could provide care in a separate building. Seventeen Democrats joined Republicans in approving the bill. 

The Michigan House approved Wednesday a bill that would direct elderly people with COVID-19 away from nursing homes and into designated care facilities, a challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's nursing home order.

Nursing homes unable to provide care in a separate building would need to move the resident to a field hospital, a facility used during a hospital's surge capacity or a "dedicated facility." The policy would apply only to those individuals inadmissible to a hospital.

The departments of Health and Human Services and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would need to create at least one "dedicated facility" per the state's eight health care regions by Sept. 1. 

The bill also requires HHS and LARA by Aug. 15 to evaluate the effectiveiness of 21 regional hubs designated by Whitmer earlier this year to take infected individual for whom nursing homes did not believe they could provide care. 

Democratic Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit has been a proponent for change in Michigan's nursing home policy during the pandemic, but she criticized the bill. She said the legislation was rushed and left too many loose ends regarding the required transfer and the mandates for "designated facilities."

"It's problematic. It's not reasonable. It's unfair. It's dense,” Love said.

"We have the talent. We have the answers right here in this chamber. We don’t have to take a Senate bill," she said.

Republican Rep. Luke Meerman of Coopersville urged the legislation's passage, arguing that Whiter's policy had done "nothing other than increase the vulnerability of our elderly population."

"While this is an issue that should have never occurred, the time is long overdue to correct this massive problem that the administration has created," Meerman said. 

In her executive orders related to nursing homes, Whitmer has directed nursing homes to house elderly COVID-19 patients in either an isolated area of a nursing home or one of 21 regional hubs equipped to care for and isolate people with COVID-19.

Whitmer's policy has been criticized out of fears that the policy spurred the spread of COVID-19 by allowing infected individuals back into nursing homes ill-equipped to isolate and care for them. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com