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Rep Jack O'Malley
Rep. O’Malley criticizes chain of command when it comes to ongoing COVID-19 nursing home policy
RELEASE|September 17, 2020
Contact: Jack O'Malley

Legislator asks: “Who is ultimately helping Gov. Whitmer make the calls here?”

State Rep. Jack O’Malley today said the dismissiveness shown by Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon during testimony on Michigan’s long-term care strategy during COVID-19 is troubling – and a sign no one in the governor’s administration is owning up to decisions that have caused immense grief for seniors and their families.

“When the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic talked to certain departments from the administration early on, such as the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity or the Unemployment Insurance Agency, we heard something was a DHHS decision or a decision related to public health and therefore DHHS had taken the lead,” O’Malley said. “This week when we asked Director Gordon questions, we were told in many instances that this was someone else’s decision or some other expert in charge. “Director Gordon is the head of DHHS. While every little detail may not be readily available for him, he’s supposed to have the answers. So who is in charge? Who is assisting the governor with these decisions? That’s what our committee is trying to find out because these are the questions we are hearing in our communities from very concerned people regarding what has taken place.”

O’Malley and other legislators on the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic sought answers from Gordon Wednesday on why recommendations from the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force – which was convened by the administration – have been largely ignored. The panel formulated plans for resident placement, resource availability and quality of life for long-term care residents as those residents make up over 30 percent of total COVID-19 deaths statewide.

“A lot was happening very fast when this pandemic first hit us, but at some point you realize something is not effective and change course,” O’Malley said. “We have the data and it is telling us 30 percent of the COVID deaths in our state are at nursing homes. We have the science telling us what the virus does to our more vulnerable populations. We have medical experts telling us there aren’t enough tests or labs devoted to long-term care facilities and these experts have made many other recommendations to help save lives and improve the quality of life in these homes. But much of it is being recklessly discarded.”

A total of 13 recommendations were made to the administration by the task force to develop a more effective approach regarding quality of life for long-term care during the pandemic. The committee heard testimony Tuesday from Salli Pung – Michigan’s Long Term Care Ombudsman who oversaw recommendations in this area. O’Malley noted that until recently, many nursing home residents could not get critical services – including dental work, physical therapy and mental health treatment – because certain care providers were not allowed in.

“The administration should have addressed these issues earlier to help lessen the psychological toll isolation would take on seniors and their families,” O’Malley said. “I am pleased Gov. Whitmer is moving on some of these recommendations now, but she must listen to the experts she tasked with developing a smarter approach.”

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