Editorial: Whitmer's veto continues bad nursing home policy

The Detroit News

We were hoping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would work with the Legislature on an important bill that would have reversed the state’s dangerous nursing home policy. Yet she stubbornly refused to even consider it, and vetoed the legislation Friday. 

This bipartisan bill would have stipulated that COVID-19-positive nursing home patients released from a hospital not be returned to their long-term care facility. Nor would positive patients be retained at their nursing home. Rather, they would have been placed in a dedicated facility where they could receive proper care without placing other residents at risk. 

A sign at the Ingham County Medical Care Facility points to the "COVID entrance & exit" on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Whitmer’s veto makes an excellent argument against her ongoing unilateral power, which she’s relied on to shut out the legislative branch and rule via executive orders for nearly five months. The governor has continued to extend the state of emergency without legislative approval, and she’s likely to do so again when the current declaration expires Aug. 11

That 17 Democrats in the House, as well as two in the Senate, signed on to the nursing home bill should have signaled to Whitmer that this wasn’t a partisan jab. It was and remains a crucial matter of protecting the state’s most vulnerable. Separately, 13 House Democrats supported a strongly worded resolution calling on Whitmer to change her policy. 

More than a third of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths have come from nursing homes. 

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Yet Whitmer’s original nursing home order in April placed this state among only five to allow infected nursing home residents back into their facilities. While the order called for the creation of dedicated units and regional hubs, the fact remains that many nursing homes have been taking in COVID patients, and these facilities are not equipped to prevent the virus from spreading. 

All other governors have backed down and changed course when they saw the consequences, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, back in May. 

But Whitmer has not altered her policy, even though she was warned early on by the head of the state’s elder care association that Michigan should avoid exposing nursing home patients in this way. 

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, sponsored the bill. He’s called Whitmer’s order “reckless and negligent,” asking Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider to investigate. 

In her veto letter, Whitmer pointed to the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force she formed in June that’s tasked with giving her recommendations by Aug. 31. 

She defended the policy, claiming the legislation was based on the "the false premise that isolation units created within existing facilities are somehow insufficient to protect seniors."

While close, lawmakers don’t have enough votes to override the governor’s veto.

In a statement, Lucido said: “I am very disappointed and saddened that the governor vetoed this extremely important and commonsense legislation.” 

So are we. Whitmer has chosen to stand her ground rather than negotiate with lawmakers on such a vital matter.