State makes nursing home COVID-19 testing mandatory

DHHS confirms almost 2K nursing home deaths

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Testing all nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19 is now mandatory,  the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Monday.

The emergency order mandate was announced as part of a series of changes to Michigan’s COVID-19 policies related to nursing homes, which came in response to sustained complaints that data on the facilities’ infections failed to tell the full story.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon | Casey Hull

“We knew we had to do something different to get accurate data, so we decided to call all 447 nursing facilities individually,” DHHS Director Robert Gordon said during a press teleconference Monday.

Gordon also reported new cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths at the state’s nursing homes as of Sunday, which he said is the most accurate count provided to the public so far, at 7,163 resident cases, 1,947 resident deaths, 3,133 staffer cases and 20 staffer deaths.

That new data combines numbers from all but one of Michigan’s nursing home facilities.

“Based on these data, as of yesterday, 34% of Michigan’s 5,770 COVID deaths were nursing facility residents,” Gordon said. He added that this percentage is generally consistent with those in other states.

As of Monday, DHHS reported a total of 60,064 positive cases and 5,772 deaths in Michigan. Nursing home COVID-19 cases are about 17% of the state’s total.

For the new reporting requirements, the DHHS order requires all nursing homes to submit a testing plan by June 22. They then must begin to test all residents and staffers on June 29 and wrap up the first round by July 3.

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After that, facilities located in regions designated as “medium” or “high risk” for COVID-19 are required to do further testing each week until no new COVID-19 cases appear for two consecutive weeks. New or returning residents will need to undergo further testing.

Nursing homes that fail to comply will receive a $1,000 penalty for each violation, or for each day that a violation continues.

DHHS had previously issued a notice to nursing homes on guidance and requirements for testing in May, but had not made those policies mandatory or enforced them with fines for violations.

Gordon said the order to make testing mandatory had also been on hold until now because increased testing capabilities in the state just recently became more widely available.

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As for the much-criticized policy of putting COVID-19 positive patients in with nursing home residents, which led to an uptick in cases among the facilities, Gordon said the department is still working on solutions.

“It is very easy to say that you should keep COVID and non-COVID residents in different facilities. It is very easy to say and it is extremely difficult to do in the real world,” Gordon said. 

He acknowledged that older people are particularly vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications.

DHHS also will  be addressing staff shortages by providing short-term staffing support. Gordon said the Michigan National Guard and local health departments have been working with facilities to ensure accurate baseline testing.