(The Center Square) – Congressional Republicans intensified their questioning of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s nursing home policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent a letter asking Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate the impact of Whitmer’s executive orders that placed COVID-19 patients into the same buildings, but different units, as elderly nursing home residents.
They also sought investigations into four other state governors who set similar policies.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., had previously requested similar information from Whitmer, which the governor declined. The inquiries come amid accusations that her policies may have contributed to thousands of elderly deaths.
“Grieving families of those who died as a result of these orders deserve answers about why they were put in place and the full extent of their impact, and there is no amount of stonewalling, name-calling, or blame-shifting that will make us give up on getting them,” Scalise said in a statement.
Four congressmen requested the number of COVID-19 patients who were admitted into nursing homes daily after Jan. 1, and internal documents on that subject between Nessel, Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Whitmer’s administration has contended their practices were based on science and data, and that alternate care facilities weren’t suitable for many COVID-10 patients.
Ryan Jarvi, Nessel’s press secretary, said they had received the letter and are preparing a response.
COVID-19 has killed 2,064 nursing home residents in the state as of Thursday, approximately 35 percent of the state's total deaths from the virus.
Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, told The Center Square he believed a "throwaway culture" led states to enact policies that endangered nursing home patients.
“In addition, many more states rationed their [personal protective equipment], training, and extra staff such that nursing home staff were left out in the cold,” Camosy wrote in an email.
“We simply didn't care about this throwaway population before the pandemic – and now the log has been turned over and we see the ugliness we prefer to be kept hidden. But that's one of the silver linings of the pandemic. We are being forced to look at things we previously wanted kept out of sight and out of mind.”
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for about 43 percent of the COVID-19 deaths across the nation, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity estimated.
Camosy called the high death rate a “profound moral failure to care for and protect the least among us. The highest duties for traditional Christians and the heart of activism of secular progressives were simply ignored.”
Whitmer on Friday signed Executive Order 2020-135 to create a bipartisan Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
That task force will analyze data on COVID-19 in nursing homes, report its findings to Whitmer, and recommend future actions to prevent the virus spread in nursing homes by Aug. 31, 2020.
“These actions will help our state protect more nursing home residents and staff in the case of a second wave,” Whitmer said in a statement.
“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.”
State Director of AARP Michigan Paula Cunningham said she's “optimistic” that the 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 to extend restrictions on visiting long-term care facilities and other congregate living facilities through July 24, 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.