Jacques: Don't make senior safety partisan

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

If there were ever a moment for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state lawmakers to come together, it’s now. 

The Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to add protections for nursing home residents from COVID-19, and would correct Whitmer’s executive order that has put too many of the state’s most vulnerable in harm’s way.

In April, Whitmer issued an order that instructed nursing homes with capacity to create “isolation units” in their facilities so they could accept COVID patients once they were released from hospitals. The order also called for “regional hubs,” dedicated to the care of patients battling the virus. 

In this Wednesday, April 1, 2020 photo, members of City Impact, a faith-based organization from Cedar Springs, sing and pray for residents and staff at Metron of Cedar Springs nursing home, in Cedar Springs, Mich. Administrators at Metron announced the nursing home has multiple residents and staff members who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bringing any infected individual into a nursing home, regardless of attempts to separate them from other residents, is a dangerous policy given how the virus attacks the elderly and sick. More than a third of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes. 

More:Editorial: Whitmer must answer for nursing home policy

Whitmer was warned early on by the head of the state’s elder care association that this was something to avoid but did it anyway. 

Michigan was one of only five states to implement a similar order. While other governors — mostly notably New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo back in May — have issued mea culpas and reversed course, Whitmer has not. 

So lawmakers felt they had to do something. 

The effort’s been led by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who’s called for state and federal investigations into the nursing home policy that he has labeled “reckless and negligent.”

Lucido says Whitmer didn’t reach out to him regarding his legislation. And while he expects her to veto the bill, he wanted to offer a solution. 

“We can’t be doing this to people who can’t protect themselves,” Lucido says.

Whitmer has dismissed pushback against the nursing home order as partisan games. Congressional Republicans have also sought answers from her and Attorney General Dana Nessel, but to no avail. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise asked Nessel to investigate in a June letter. He also sent letters to the governors of New York, New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania — the states that had similar policies.  

The criticism has come from Democrats, too, however. Thirteen state House Democrats signed on to a pointed resolution last month, demanding Whitmer reverse course and do more to protect nursing home residents. 

“The governor continues to issue executive orders without changing course in this alarming policy,” the resolution stated. “We are determined to make sure those involved …are held accountable and that the families impacted by it receive the answers they deserve.”

Seventeen House Democrats and two in the Senate voted for Lucido’s bill that would do more to ensure coronavirus positive residents would be placed in dedicated facilities, and require additional inspections by the state health department. Yet there isn't enough Democratic support to override a veto. 

Whitmer’s not budging, with her office stating she’s “been committed to protecting nursing home residents.” 

In an email, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said, “SB 956 [Lucido’s bill] is based on the false premise that isolation units within existing facilities are somehow insufficient — a claim entirely unsupported by the data.”

The governor also points to a task force she put together late last month that is supposed to give her recommendations by Aug. 31 for improving the safety of nursing homes.

That’s a long time to wait while Michigan’s risky policy remains in place. 

“We are the only state still playing a game with people in nursing homes,” says Lucido. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques