(WWJ) Acting on advice from a panel of experts, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a new executive order aimed to protect vulnerable residents and staff at longterm care facilities in Michigan.
Executive Order 2020-191 order takes into consideration recommendations from the governor’s Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force, which released its report August 31.
“From day one, I have taken action to protect both seniors and staff in long-term care facilities from COVID-19. We know this virus is a killer that preys on our most vulnerable citizens,” said Whittmer, in a statement Wednesday.
“That’s why we have been working around the clock to protect our seniors and aggressively following CDC guidance to limit the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. I signed an order months ago requiring testing for all residents and staff and new residents, and my administration has helped get nursing homes thousands of tests. Federal leadership on this issue has been absent, which is why I created a nursing home task force to ensure Michigan at least has coordinated and steady leadership on this critical issue. We still need the president to do the right thing and develop a national strategy to protect our families, frontline workers, and our most vulnerable populations from COVID-19.”
The governor's office says Executive Order 2020-191 maintains the strong infection control protocols in nursing homes the governor put in place at the outset of this crisis, and protects residents from eviction and employees from retaliatory action for staying home when exhibiting symptoms.
READ: Executive Order 2020-191
Following recommendations from the Nursing Home Task Force, the order, along with a DHHS policy bulletin released today, establishes Care and Recovery Centers to help patients requiring a skilled nursing level of care rehabilitate from COVID-19. Care and Recovery Centers will be care units dedicated exclusively to caring for and isolating COVID-19-affected residents.
The also requires enhanced transparency and communications from nursing homes, expanding notification requirements for positive cases to include legal guardians, health proxies, prospective staff and residents.
In order to improve resident well-being, the order also lifts the previous prohibition on communal dining and instead requires both communal dining and group activities to be conducted consistent with CMS and DHHS guidance.
While Whitmer has been criticized by political opponents and the public for sending positive COVID patients back into nursing homes amid the pandemic, the governor has defended her policy as necessary.
This comes as outbreaks are happening in nursing homes nationwide. Long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they account for 41% of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., with more than 80,000 fatalities reported by the COVID Tracking Project.
According to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service, deaths in nursing homes amounts to nearly a third of Michigan's overall COVID-19 fatalities.