The Michigan Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would require the state health department to identify facilities for the exclusive care of nursing home residents with COVID-19. The legislation next goes to the House Committee on Health Policy.
Senator Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Charter Township), who sponsored the bill, defended it during the Senate session.
“This bill is for the benefit of those who cannot be admitted into a hospital,” he said. “These are the ones that don’t meet the threshold for a hospital. Those individuals, this bill is aimed to protect.”
Several Democratic senators agreed: the Legislature should craft policies that better protect Michigan’s nursing home residents. But they worried Lucido’s bill didn’t do enough to affirm patients’ rights.
Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) proposed an amendment that would require physician input before a nursing home resident gets transferred to another facility.
“We do not get to play God here,” he said. “The idea that we are choosing one person’s life over another and saying one is more important because they tested positive or not is not our role in state government.”
That amendment was voted down by the Republican-led Legislature. So was an amendment by Senator Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) that would have required MDHHS to notify a resident’s family or representative of an impending transfer, and give residents the ability to appeal a transfer.
The one Democratic-sponsored amendment that was adopted — proposed by Senator Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) — notes that MDHHS should get help from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to carry out the bill’s mandates. Those include evaluating Michigan’s current regional hub policy, and coming up with a plan for establishing the new recovery facilities.
Senators Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) spoke in favor of the bill — and against Governor Gretchen Whitmer's regional hub policy, which places patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities, but different units.
Runestad praised Florida, which has set up “isolation centers” that only admit recovering COVID-19 patients in need of long-term care.
“They did just as Senator Lucido described,” he said. “They had facilities set aside — either facilities that were closed or un-utilized — and all the infected patients went into those facilities. So they were not putting infected patients in with non-infected patients, like the state of Michigan did.”
That’s only partially accurate. While Florida’s isolation centers do only accept patients with COVID-19, not all long-term care residents with the disease go to them. In fact, their capacity is only 529 beds, and as of Wednesday, there were 1,513 active COVID-19 cases in Florida's long-term care facilities, according to the state's health department.
Facilities with proper infection controls are allowed to care for COVID-19-positive residents and those without the disease, so long as they’re in separate units — just like in Michigan.
Florida has counted fewer COVID-19 deaths so far among its nursing home residents than Michigan, despite its long-term care population being much larger. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, there have been 1,724 deaths in Florida’s long-term care facilities; as of Wednesday, Michigan had 2,011, according to the state’s website.
But Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), noting a recent spike in cases across Florida, called Runestad’s praise “jarring.”
“We all need to take the time to work together to figure out how we protect the most vulnerable among us,” she said. “But to call out a state like Florida as an example, I think, is reckless and dangerous.”