Amid concern over the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday created Michiga
She signed Executive Order 2020-135 establishing the panel, which will consist of leaders across state government, including representatives from DHHS and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).
The task force also will include a representative of the Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, bipartisan representation from both houses of the Legislature (two members from each house), and 13 other members appointed by the governor, including individuals with a personal or professional interest in the health, safety and welfare of nursing home residents and workers.
“We have taken great strides here in Michigan to protect families from the spread of COVID-19 and lower the chance of a second wave, but it’s crucial that we stay vigilant and work around the clock to protect our most vulnerable residents and those who have dedicated their lives to caring for them,” said Whitmer. “These actions will help our state protect more nursing home residents and staff in the case of a second wave. Moving forward, I will work closely with the task force and with everyone who wants to help us protect our most vulnerable communities, the heroes on the front lines, and our families from this virus.”
Republicans in the Legislature have been highly critical of Whitmer and her administration regarding the roughly 2,000 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. The Senate this week passed Senate Bill 956, which would bar coronavirus patients from being placed in nursing homes. The House last week passed House Resolution 276 also opposing the practice.
“We need a smarter approach than the one currently in place,” state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) said.
The Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force will analyze relevant data on the threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes, make recommendations to the governor on improving data quality and releasing periodic reports to the governor on its findings and recommendations. The task force must produce a recommendation to the governor for an action plan on how to prepare nursing homes for any future wave of COVID-19 cases by Aug. 31.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a particularly dire threat to the health and safety of residents and employees of long-term care facilities across the country,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and DHHS chief deputy director for health. “This task force will help us continue to work to protect our most vulnerable residents and the caretakers serving on the front lines.”
Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan said “the impact of COVID-19 on nursing home residents has been especially tragic. I am optimistic this bipartisan task force will identify best practices to ensure that nursing home residents and staff are better served and protected going forward.”
Whitmer also signed Executive Order 2020-136, which prohibits entry into a nursing home without undergoing a rigorous screening protocol designed to protect facilities from COVID-19. This extends orders that have been in place since March 14.
Executive Order 2020-136 maintains restrictions on visitation to health care facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities and juvenile justice facilities, but authorizes DHHS to gradually reopen visitation as circumstances permit.
The order continues through July 24.