Whitmer creates bipartisan nursing home task force

Extends restrictions on visits to facilities

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Amid concern over the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday created Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.