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Editorial: Whitmer order endangers nursing homes; end it now

The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must reverse course on her executive order that is placing Michigan’s most vulnerable seniors at risk. It’s a matter of life and death. 

In mid-April Whitmer issued an executive order that ultimately instructed many of the state's nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. That put other residents in jeopardy, and may well have contributed to the high death rate in Michigan nursing homes.

About a third of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been at nursing homes, and the same is true in Michigan, according to some estimates — although the state Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t been able to offer concrete numbers. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with "Today" show host Craig Melvin on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had put in place a similar policy, but recently backtracked when it became evident the harm that was being done to the population most vulnerable to the virus — the ill and elderly. 

Whitmer, by contrast, renewed her initial order when it expired last week, extending it with an identical mandate — disregarding the concerns and advice of nursing home advocates and legislators.

The order requires long-term care facilities with less than 80% capacity to create COVID-19 units and to accept infected patients.

“These were areas that we immediately brought to the attention of the state and said you shouldn’t be implementing this in this manner,” Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, has told us.

The only good news is that Whitmer extended the order for just one week. It expires Wednesday, which indicates she may be planning to shift course. She should.

Whitmer's spokeswoman says the governor is "reviewing" the order.

Michigan State Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, addresses a crowd of 60 people on Friday, January 17, 2020, in Washington Township.

Elderly people have needlessly been exposed to the virus and died as a result of this order.

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is furious at Whitmer’s unwillingness to adjust the mandate in light of evidence that it may be doing harm. He’s majority vice chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee, which last week grilled Robert Gordon, Health and Human Services director, and other officials about conditions in the state's nursing homes.

More:State Sen. Lucido seeks probes of Whitmer's nursing home pandemic orders

More:Editorial: State must do more to ensure safety of nursing homes

Lucido wasn’t satisfied with what he heard. Gordon was unable to say exactly how many of the state’s nearly 5,000 COVID-19 deaths happened at nursing homes, which is especially relevant given Whitmer’s order. 

“How many died as a result? They had no idea,” Lucido says. “The state has kept records like crap.” 

As an attorney, Lucido has decided to take action. He sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel requesting separate probes into Whitmer’s order. Such investigations are certainly merited. 

The letter states: "I believe that this reckless and negligent policy, which was instituted despite the written opposition of the Health Care Association of Michigan, has resulted in the illness and death of many of Michigan’s elderly and infirm residents..."

Lucido points out that nursing homes do not have the capability to oversee COVID-19 patients like hospitals do. For instance, they don’t have the sophisticated air ventilation systems, nor the same expertise in preventing the spread of such highly contagious illnesses. 

Other states that avoided placing COVID-19 patients in nursing homes have fared better.  

The Daily Signal reports that New York has had roughly 30 times as many virus-related deaths as Florida, which has a similar-sized population. The majority of the deaths in New York have been among senior citizens, many of them living in nursing homes. 

Unlike Cuomo and Whitmer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis protected nursing home residents from the beginning, prohibiting COIVD-19 patients discharged from the hospital from returning to their long-term facilities. Rather, he set aside dedicated facilities to handle these patients. 

That should be all the evidence Whitmer needs to end this disastrous order today.