Updated, 1:06 p.m. 4/13/20
The spread of COVID-19 often hits older people the hardest. Reports coming from nursing homes around the state are showing that those living in these facilities could be in a particularly dangerous situation.
A number of residents and employees working in metro Detroit have tested positive for COVID-19, the new coronavirus, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leaders are calling on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to take action to ensure health and safety standards.
“Nursing homes are choosing to ignore the most basic safety standards, including not supplying personal protective equipment, and mandating that workers report back to work even if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” SEIU Healthcare Michigan President Andrea Acevedo said in a press release Monday. “This is an industry-wide problem, and we feel it’s time for the governor to step in and demand industry-wide safety standards in nursing homes.”
The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) oversees nursing homes in Michigan.
Director Orlene Hawks told the Advance that the department is “doing everything in our power to make sure that nursing homes are meeting the safety standards required of them. “We are committed to making sure that all of Michigan’s nursing home residents have the highest quality of care possible, especially during this COVID-19 crisis.“
Two Detroit nursing homes, Advantage Living Center Northwest and Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, are reporting presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Employees at Advantage Living Center Northwest are reporting more than a dozen presumed cases, including 10 residents and multiple workers. In the last two weeks, five residents died after experiencing high fevers and shortness of breaths. Up to 45 nursing home residents have been isolated in the home to prevent further infection. The living center has not officially reported if any residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
Last week at Advantage Living Center in Roseville, more than 20 patients who were positive or suspected positive for the COVID-19 are now in isolation.
Additionally, workers at Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center are reporting up to three workers and one resident who have tested positive.
Heartland Health Care Center in Livonia was the first nursing home in Michigan to report a resident test positive for COVID-19 on March 22.
“These new cases present an alarming trend right now in nursing homes,” said Acevedo. “Even worse, there is almost no accountability from most nursing home owners during this time of crisis. Many nursing home operators are failing to meet the most basic safety standards, and as a result they are putting the lives of our workers and residents at severe risk.”
As of 3 p.m Tuesday., the state is reporting a total of 7,695 positive cases of COVID-19 and 259 deaths, but health officials believe the actual number of cases is much higher.
Southeast Michigan, in particular, has been hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading US government infectious disease expert, warned that Detroit was “starting to show signs that they’re going to take off.”
Between Wayne County, Oakland County, Macomb County and the city of Detroit, there are 6,179 known cases of COVID-19 and 228 deaths.
Earlier this month, SEIU Healthcare Michigan sent a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to the 66 metro Detroit nursing homes they represent, outlining actions that nursing homes need to take to protect workers, including paid sick leave for workers exposed to COVID-19, free testing to all employees, proper protective gear for employees, bonus pay for workers and financial assistance for childcare and no retaliation for workers who reported potential COVID-19 exposure to their employers.
However, not all nursing home employers are taking the same measures to protect their employees.
Theresa Rincher, a certified nursing assistant and restorative aide atAmbassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, says that despite being in close contact with another nurse who tested positive with COVID-19, she is still being asked to come to work.
“They told me to report to work as usual, but I am considering a self-quarantine,” Rincher said. “I live with family members with health issues, and now I am now scared for their lives as well as the lives of my residents.”
Tamara Blue, another Ambassador employee, has also decided to self-quarantine due to her own health problems, saying, “It’s not worth the risk to me.
“Ambassador managers are not telling us anything about who has tested positive or may have been exposed to COVID-19, but nurses are spreading the knowledge to their coworkers,” said Blue.
As recently as March 20, workers at Ambassador reported that management initially instructed employees to not use protective masks while in the facility.
“A woman from the corporate office showed up and told us that we would not be provided with any masks,” said Mary McClendon, a certified nursing assistant at Ambassador. “She told us that if we wanted masks, we would need to buy them ourselves. That isn’t right.”
SEIU Healthcare Michigan delivered a shipment of protective equipment on Friday to the facility to help shore up limited supplies.
“We are hearing outcries across the state from our nursing home workers, and we cannot wait any longer to take action to protect all workers in Michigan,” said Acevedo. “We hope the governor takes our concerns seriously. If we act quickly, we have the potential to save thousands of lives in Michigan.”