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Attorney General Nessel targets Michigan nursing homes' compliance with COVID-19 rules

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office will be "ramping up efforts" to enforce requirements aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 inside long-term care facilities, including nursing homes.

In a Thursday press release, Nessel's office said the facilities have to follow several policies to safeguard residents and employees, including halting communal dining and providing personal protective equipment for workers.

In July, a Detroit News review of inspection reports for the 45 nursing homes with the most deaths linked to COVID-19 found that nearly half had been cited in the last four months for failing to follow infection control, isolation or staffing policies.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

For months, nursing homes have been at the center of debate in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. About one-third of the deaths linked to the virus in the state have been nursing home residents.

"My office is prepared to continue our role of enforcing the law as this virus lingers and as Michigan’s most vulnerable populations remain at risk," Nessel said Thursday.

Republicans — and some Democrats — have criticized Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's nursing home policies during the pandemic, which have focused on caring for elderly individuals with the virus inside isolated spaces of existing facilities. The critics have argued that those with COVID-19 should be cared for in entirely separate buildings or field hospitals to limit the spread among a vulnerable population. 

But Whitmer's administration has argued that nursing home residents can safely be cared for in isolated areas of their facilities and the GOP plan for separate buildings doesn't explain how they would be staffed and would force residents to be transferred without their permission.

At one facility, an inspector wrote that staff had been ordered not wear masks in the early days of the pandemic because it would create panic. In others, employees complained of not having access to personal protective equipment and not knowing which residents had COVID-19 and which didn't.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs will refer complaints it receives involving violations of safety protocols to the Attorney General's Health Care Fraud Division, according to Nessel's office. The division will review the complaint and determine whether additional steps must be taken.

There are more than 4,900 long-term care facilities across the state, according to Nessel's office.

cmauger@detroitnews.com