State Rep. Julie Calley and other legislators serving on the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic heard testimony today regarding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ongoing nursing home policy which has put COVID-19 patients under the same roof as healthy residents.
Michigan has lost over 2,000 nursing home residents to COVID-19 – over 30 percent of the total statewide deaths from the virus. Dr. Betty Chu, co-chair of the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force, spoke before the committee about a report that was compiled by the workgroup and submitted to the governor’s office. Dr. Chu explained more work must be done to get personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies to long-term care facilities.
“Given that a large percentage of deaths have come from long-term care facilities and the fact that those in nursing homes are especially vulnerable to the virus, it is imperative to make sure these facilities are properly prepared,” said Calley, of Portland. “Many were not prepared for the first wave we saw, and they could not turn patients away despite their inadequacies. We can’t allow that to happen again as winter closes in and a second wave seems possible.”
The task force made recommendations involving placement of residents, resource availability, staffing and quality of life.
Calley expressed concern that the workgroup’s report did not make recommendations on how to improve data quality. Difficulty in whether to attribute COVID-19 deaths to hospitals or nursing homes when long-term care residents are transported to a hospital for medical treatment has led to flawed data that doesn’t reveal the full scope of the issue, the second-term legislator said. Calley also said not enough emphasis was placed on remedying the current practice of putting COVID-19 patients into nursing homes.
“I’m puzzled that the task force chose to address placement of residents as the last facet of its report,” Calley said. “It should be first. Saving lives should be the ultimate priority, and what we know about this virus is that it severely impacts our elderly population. The governor’s ongoing order to place COVID-19 patients into facilities that house elderly populations has and continues to put lives in danger.”
Calley said she appreciated the report’s inclusion of many quality of life recommendations that acknowledge the mental toll the prolonged policies have taken on long-term care residents. The recommendations include opportunities for visitation and communal dining within the facility if it is done in a socially distanced manner. Most states have permitted safe visitation practices while dealing with COVID-19.
“I’m deeply concerned about vulnerable Michiganders living in isolation for almost six months and I hear from family members who are desperate to see their loved ones but have to talk to them through a window,” Calley said. “It’s imperative we find ways for long-term care residents to interact with their family members in a safe and responsible way. This is taking a significant mental toll on our friends and family.”
For the past six months, I have heard from more concerned residents than ever before. They worry about not having a job, about educating their children, about gaining access to a family member in a long-term care facility, about catching up on preventative medical care – and yes, they worry about protecting their loved ones from COVID-19.
State Rep. Julie Calley heard testimony today in the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic from Unemployment Director Steve Gray. After months of attempting to deal with a surge in unemployment claims, the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency still has work to do.