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Whitmer: Michigan could ease nursing home visitation restrictions as early as next week
Detroit Free Press - 2/24/2021
Michigan may soon allow more visitors at nursing homes and similar facilities, easing some restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday.
The changes could take effect as soon as next week, coming as senior advocates point to improving COVID-19 trends and national health guidance as a reason to allow family members to meet with their loved ones living in nursing homes.
"We've taken action and followed the data. We're hopeful that we'll be able to announce additional aspects of reengagement on that particular front, hopefully as soon as next week," Whitmer said during a news conference.
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Nursing homes and similar long-term care facilities have been an epicenter of the health impact caused by COVID-19 in Michigan and across the country. More than 5,500 of the state's roughly 15,400 deaths in the state due to the novel coronavirus are attributed to residents of long-term care facilities. Additionally, 81 staff members have died from COVID-19, according to state data.
By early February though, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state's chief medical executive, said every resident and worker of a skilled nursing facility in the state either received a vaccine or had the opportunity to do so. That represents more than 100,000 doses for residents and staff at the state's 4,400 long-term care facilities.
"While we are doing well, our progress is fragile," Khaldun said, noting the spread of COVID-19 variants in Michigan. She said the state now knows of 314 cases tied to variants across 19 counties, up last week from 157 cases in 13 counties.
In October, the state started allowing some visitors as long as a litany of safety protocols were followed. However, David Herbel, president and CEO of senior advocacy organization LeadingAge Michigan, said the policies still preclude many relatives and friends from visiting. In some cases, that includes preventing seniors who have COVID-19 at the end of their lives from having visitors.
“The continued and relentless impact on our families who have seniors living in residential communities has compelled us to take immediate action and work to elevate their voice and ours in a quest to recover their dignity and quality of life," Herbel said in a news release Wednesday, urging the state to relax visitation restrictions.
He also pointed to CDC guidelines that recommend visitation and explain the benefits.
More: Michigan is not the only state allowing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 positive residents
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Whitmer continues to face criticism for how her administration initially handled procedures for nursing homes with residents who had COVID-19. On Wednesday, eight state Republican senators called on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate the governor and her administration over their nursing home policies.
“Gov. Whitmer’s administration has been questioned repeatedly about unintended consequences of her policies and discrepancies in the reported numbers of cases and deaths in our state’s long-term care facilities,” the letter reads in part.
“Moving residents around the state between facilities and hospitals may have significantly increased exposure of nursing home residents to the virus, while simultaneously shielding the death toll.”
A Nessel spokesman said Wednesday the office just received the letter from the lawmakers and are reviewing it.
In April, Whitmer issued an order that said residents could not be barred from returning to their homes based on a COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalizations. However, the order required those homes to have dedicated units where patients would be housed before they could leave the hospitals. The order also included a series of safeguards required for residents and employees.
In late May she issued a new order that also allowed residents hospitalized for COVID-19 to return to their homes even if they were still contagious. Both orders also required homes to send infected residents to regional hubs, hospitals or better equipped facilities if they did not have an isolation unit.
Still, Republicans and many other critics of the policy continue to blast the governor and state. In August, the U.S. Department of Justice requested data from Michigan on its nursing home policy. The request included charged language; a news release said the request was sent to several states "that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents."
Whitmer's administration provided the requested information, and at the time the governor blasted the department for playing politics.
"The fact that this letter was sent during the middle of the Republican National Convention week to four Democratic governors should make it crystal clear that this is nothing more than election year politics by an administration that is more concerned with the president's re-election campaign than protecting Michigan seniors," Whitmer said at the time.
As of this week, nearly 2 million Michiganders have been vaccinated. That puts Michigan at about 24th nationally in terms of states administering doses per 100,000 residents.
As more people get vaccinated, Whitmer and state leaders anticipate the remaining restrictions on business, restaurants and other entities can be relaxed.
Contact Dave Boucher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer: Michigan could ease nursing home visitation restrictions as early as next week
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