This column written by Rep. Bronna Kahle originally appeared in The Daily Telegram.
By Rep. Bronna Kahle of Adrian
About one-third of the COVID-19 deaths in Michigan have occurred at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. As the former director of a senior center in Lenawee County, this saddens me beyond words.
My sadness turns to frustration when I think about how misguided policies from Gov. Whitmer continue to put our grandparents, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, and other loved ones at risk. Even today, the governor stands by these harmful policies – vetoing a plan presented to her by the Legislature that would have ended her orders and helped protect our seniors.
Senior citizens, especially those in nursing homes, are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. This has been obvious since early in the pandemic. The average age of a nursing home resident in Michigan is 82, a majority of whom have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to serious complications of COVID-19. Yet despite repeated objections from myself and others, Gov. Whitmer has continued with a policy mandated through her executive orders that allows contagious, recovering COVID-19 patients to be placed into long-term care facilities – putting individuals who have tested positive under the same roof as healthy residents.
This wasn’t just a mistake. It was a fatal error in judgement. Other states that implemented policies similar to Michigan’s quickly realized it was wrong and reversed course. But Michigan has not. More than 2,000 residents of elder care facilities have died from COVID-19 in our state, one of the worst rates in the nation.
Nursing homes often are struggling with insufficient facilities, equipment and staff when it comes to coping with a pandemic such as COVID-19. The hard work and tremendous dedication of our healthcare professionals and workers in Michigan’s nursing homes deserve our heartfelt appreciation and respect, but these homes were never meant to serve as COVID-19 wards. These brave heroes, who work long hours to care for some of our most vulnerable, are required to follow executive orders.
My colleagues and I recently approved a plan in the Michigan Legislature to end the governor’s ill-prescribed policy and replace it with a much safer, smarter strategy. It is critical to seek input from medical experts when making decisions affecting the health and well-being of thousands of helpless seniors.
The legislative plan would have required state regulators to complete an evaluation and report of the current policies regarding COVID-19 patients and nursing homes by Aug. 15. A new plan would be required by Sept. 1, creating at least one dedicated regional facility within each of the state’s eight health regions for use as COVID-19 patient facilities. Unlike the governor’s current policy, the legislative plan protects nursing home residents by prohibiting the placement of individuals with COVID-19 in any long-term care facility unless it has a separate dedicated building where affected patients can be properly cared for and quarantined.
The people put in harm’s way by Michigan’s current policy are not expendable. I am deeply troubled the governor vetoed this plan. She is still refusing to listen and partner together with the Legislature to end her reckless mandate. The health and safety of our loved ones should not be a partisan issue.
We must do everything we can to protect our seniors living in these facilities. That’s why I will continue to be a voice for the vulnerable and the voiceless until the governor abandons this dangerous policy.
Our seniors – and our entire state – deserve better.
A group of House Republican legislators today labeled the latest emergency order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regarding indoor visitation in nursing homes as a step in the right direction, adding there is still more work to be done.
“The governor and the Legislature can and should work together – always – to protect lives and livelihoods during this pandemic,” said Kahle, of Adrian. “These measures approved by the House will keep people safer, protect our most vulnerable, and better connect every citizen with their elected leaders at every level of state and local government. It’s strong action toward the continued safe, sensible reopening of Lenawee County and the entire state.”