Governor Gretchen Whitmer is tweaking how the state decides which nursing facilities can safely accept recovering COVID-19 patients.
Under an executive order issued on Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will replace regional hub facilities with “care and recovery centers.”
The two are essentially the same.
Both of them — recovery centers and regional hubs — are isolation wings within nursing homes where residents with COVID-19 can recover. Both are supposed to be able to accept COVID patients from long-term care facilities that aren’t able to set up an isolation wing, or from hospitals, when patients can’t safely return to the facility where they live.
The difference is, under the new order, the recovery centers must meet higher standards in areas like staffing and infection control. Their staffing rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must be at least three stars; and they can’t have been cited for abuse.
Two facilities that formerly served as hubs were cited for abuse in the last year.
The revision embraces a recommendation from Whitmer’s nursing home task force, which delivered 28 wide-ranging recommendations to the governor in late August about how the state and nursing homes should respond to a potential second surge in COVID-19 cases.
MDHHS is now accepting applications from nursing homes that believe they can safely isolate residents recovering from COVID. Simultaneously, the department is holding a public comment period for the policy.
Comments are due to MDHHS policy specialist Emily Frankman by November 4. She can be reached at FrankmanE@michigan.gov.
MDHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton says of the 21 regional hubs originally selected, just six were operating as of Thursday this week. Those facilities will continue to operate as hubs, but must go through the application process if they wish to serve as recovery centers. If they don’t apply, or do apply but don’t get selected, they’ll be replaced by the facilities that are selected.
Michigan Republicans passed a bill in July that would have created entirely separate facilities for recovering COVID patients, not just isolation wings. Whitmer vetoed the bill, saying it “fails to explain how such facilities would be staffed or paid for, or how frail residents would be protected during the potentially traumatic transfer from one facility to another.”
Nursing home residents account for more than 30% of COVID-19 deaths in Michigan.