AG effort to take deeper dive into abuse, neglect cases at Michigan nursing homes

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Attorney General Dana Nessel is appointing a team of agents to make unannounced visits to Michigan nursing homes to investigate possible instances of abuse and neglect.

The Sentinel Project will determine which nursing homes will receive a visit from the team of specially trained staff based on complaints, performance metrics and other data, Nessel's office said in a statement Monday. 

The initiative's mission will differ from Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs branch because it will investigate criminal activity, not licensing violations. Nessel's office and LARA will share information helpful to either mission. 

“We are dedicated to detecting and addressing any neglect or abuse of loved ones residing in long-term care facilities. Instances of substandard care must be eliminated, and the Sentinel Project will help accomplish that goal," Nessel said in a statement. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

The state's long-term care association, the Health Care Association of Michigan, noted investigations usually are unannounced and expected the new initiative would look at broader concerns within nursing facilities.

“HCAM respects the role of the attorney general in the regulatory and oversight process," said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO for the association.

Nessel's office has made unannounced visits to nursing homes in the past but those visits were more narrow in scope, said Lynsey Mukomel, a spokeswoman for Nessel.

"The Sentinel Project will be broad and it will involve a small team, rather than a single agent," Mukomel said. "For example, in the past an agent may be investigating a complaint involving wound care of a particular resident and their investigation would have been focused on just that resident. Under the Sentinel Project, the team would look facility-wide."

The project is part of an effort to prepare for the "Silver Tsunami" of seniors expected to take up residence in nursing facilities over the next few decades, according to Nessel's office. 

The project will be housed within the Health Care Fraud Division of Nessel's office, a unit that receives 75% of its $6.7 million budget from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Other than the statute of limitations, nothing in the Sentinel Project's mission would prohibit the team from investigating past abuses where there is evidence to pursue them, including incidents tied to the pandemic, Mukomel said. 

Nessel has twice declined requests from Republican senators to investigate the impact of pandemic policies on nursing home cases and deaths. 

As of April 21, Michigan reported 24,601 resident coronavirus cases linked to long-term care facilities and 5,608 resident deaths linked to COVID-19.

As of Monday, Michigan had 825,844 confirmed cases across the state and 17,324 deaths linked to the virus.