We must do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable residents, especially during a public health crisis. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 the governor and lieutenant governor failed to do so — with deadly consequences.
When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., one of the few things we knew about it was that it was much more dangerous for the elderly. As a result, the national Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance in mid-March about how to control COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Nursing homes are not hospitals, and they are certainly not an appropriate place to house patients with COVID-19 unless they have a confirmed plan to isolate those patients from the other residents.
However, instead of protecting our most at-risk seniors from the coronavirus, Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order in April forcing nursing facilities with less than 80% capacity to create space to accept patients with COVID-19, regardless of their ability to care for them and isolate the spread of the virus.
As a result, over 2,000 people in our nursing homes have died from the virus, accounting for one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan. Placing COVID-19 patients in nursing homes without adequate protections for residents was irresponsible when some hospitals were not full and two field hospitals that were set up to serve thousands of patients went mostly unused.
It was a preventable tragedy, and I joined my colleagues — in a bipartisan fashion — in support of legislation that would ensure our state had the ability to treat future COVID-19 patients while never again jeopardizing the lives of nursing home residents.
Senate Bill 956 would have prohibited the placement of COVID-19 positive patients in nursing homes unless the facility could properly isolate and treat the patient. It also placed a priority on separate dedicated facilities for positive patients.
Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the measure and refused to change her failed policy.
Recently, the governor’s own Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force released recommendations that echoed that very same legislation she vetoed.
The governor’s rejection of the bipartisan legislation, which would have already implemented some of her task force’s recommendations, and her refusal to admit her mistake and work with the Legislature on corrective actions continues to jeopardize our seniors in nursing facilities.
While the Legislature, medical professionals and our citizens have asked the governor for the scientific data she is using, the U.S. Department of Justice has also requested COVID-19 data from the administration concerning executive orders that may have led to the deaths of nursing home residents. I am hopeful they will be more successful in getting the data, answers and accountability that the governor refuses to provide to us.
Lt. Gov. Gilchrist stated publicly “President Trump is a liar who has killed people, straight up.” I join the people of Michigan who were appalled at such a remark, especially coming from a sitting lieutenant governor. It was disgraceful. Instead of hurling insults, the governor and lieutenant governor should instead focus on providing answers to the families of the thousands of elderly Michiganians lost due to their tragic decisions.
The Michigan people deserve better.