(The Center Square) – A new initiative will aim to protect Michigan’s nursing home residents, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Monday.
The Sentinel Project will use trained staff to examine long-term care facilities for evidence of abuse or neglect through unannounced visits, determined by performance metrics, complaints, and other data.
These discrete but comprehensive site investigations will determine if additional action is necessary.
“This team from my Health Care Fraud Division has been established to further protect Michigan’s vulnerable and elderly population,” Nessel said in a statement. “We are dedicated to detecting and addressing any neglect or abuse of loved ones residing in long-term care facilities. Instances of substandard care must be eliminated, and The Sentinel Project will help accomplish that goal.”
Critics say Nessel is more than a year late in acting to protect Michigan’s senior citizens. State data says 89% of Michigan’s COVID-19 deaths were those ages 60 and older. Nessel previously refused to investigate fellow Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 nursing home policies.
“Governor Whitmer put thousands of senior citizens' lives in danger with reckless COVID nursing home policies," Whitney Robertson, deputy press secretary at America Rising PAC, told The Center Square in an email. "Attorney General Nessel refused to investigate it, but now she claims to care about the well-being of Michigan’s most vulnerable? This project is a slap in the face to the families of those who died as a result of the Whitmer administration’s failed leadership.”
Senior abuse was a problem pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic exacerbated older Michigander’s lives as COVID-19 spread in some facilities that failed to follow COVID-19 safety precautions, killing more than 41 residents in one home.
More than 5,590 Michiganders in nursing homes died of COVID-19, while 75 staffers also died after contracting COVID-19. In Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne County, 2,340 seniors died, accounting for 42% of the total nursing home deaths.
Visitation policies attempting to prevent COVID-19 spread were also reported frequently by friends and family.
In Oct. 2020, state Long-Term Care Ombudsman Salli Pung said her office received nearly double the number of complaints from 2019, with almost 1,300 complaints about visitation and isolation.
Pung told The Center Square she welcomed the new program.
“The Michigan Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is pleased with the announcement of another avenue for abuse and neglect concerns to be addressed in long term care,” Pung wrote in an email. “The Sentinel Program offers additional resources to investigate these very serious issues beyond what is currently available through regulatory and law enforcement agencies. We will continue to collaborate with the AG's office and other partners to work towards eliminating abuse and neglect and ensuring quality of care and quality of life for nursing home residents.”
Nessel cited a report estimating the nation’s senior population will be over 94 million by 2060 and said this project will help the state prepare for future demand and provide better care for current residents.
If someone you know is being abused or neglected in a nursing facility, you can contact the Michigan Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Hotline at (800) 24-ABUSE (2-2873) or file a complaint online through the Michigan Attorney General Patient Abuse Complaint form.