(The Center Square) – Gov. Whitmer on Friday vetoed Senate Bill 956, legislation that would have prohibited the admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby, and was passed by the Senate on June 24. The bill was approved by the state House of Representatives on July 22.
As approved, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to coordinate with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in evaluating all outcomes of the state’s regional nursing hubs and report to lawmakers by Aug. 15. The two agencies would then be tasked with developing a plan based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to establish one dedicated COVID-19 facility in each of Michigan’s eight regions by Sept. 1.
After that date, COVID-19 patients couldn’t be admitted or retained in a nursing home unless the patient had recovered or the facility could provide a physically separate building.
“Senate Bill 956 is nothing more than a political game that would relocate vulnerable seniors without any requirement for consent, doctor’s approval, or notification to patients and their families,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“It’s time for the Republican legislature to get serious about protecting our most vulnerable and addressing the public health and economic crisis faced by our state. We look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders and legislators on the task force to develop real solutions that make sense for Michigan seniors and their families."
According to Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, of the 78 COVID-19 outbreaks identified last week, 24 cases – or 31 percent – were associated with nursing homes and other adult long-term care facilities. This percentage outpaces all other known sources of COVID-19 infections.
"Gov. Whitmer's administration stated just days ago that nursing homes are where the majority of COVID outbreaks are happening in the state and it's detrimental to the health of our seniors that Whitmer vetoed a bill aimed at keeping COVID out of nursing homes," Tori Sachs, executive director of Michigan Rising Action, said in a statement.
"Michigan’s seniors in nursing homes and long-term care facilities deserved a plan to keep them safe immediately and instead, Whitmer vetoed legislation to protect them and is waiting another month before announcing much-needed policy changes," Sachs said.
In a statement, Lucido expressed his disappointment, and blamed the governor’s veto on partisanship. Calling his legislation “important and commonsense,” he added: “Politics should not prevail over the health and safety of our seniors and health care workers, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate and House to consider passing a veto override. We owe this to our citizens, especially the seniors and vulnerable members of our communities who cannot speak for themselves.”
Last week, Whitmer attempted to mitigate nursing home residents' exposure to COVID-19 by extending temporary restrictions on allowing entry into health care facilities, residential care facilities, congregate care facilities, and juvenile justice facilities.
She also created the bipartisan Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task force, an entity housed within the MDHHS. The task force will analyze the threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes and relay its findings and recommendations to the governor.
Linda Cook MacDonald, chairperson for the Michigan Senior Advocates Council, applauded the governor’s veto.
“Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens require unique medical care and living assistance to keep them safe and healthy. This legislation puts seniors at greater risk by failing to provide the enhanced and qualified staffing needed for their protection,” she said. “We support the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 956 and express our gratitude to her for protecting the health and safety of all Michiganders during this difficult and unprecedented time.”
In her veto letter, Whitmer said the bill “is based on the false premise that isolation units created within existing facilities are somehow insufficient to protect seniors – a claim unsupported by the data and refuted by the nation’s highest authorities on infectious disease.”