(The Center Square) – The Michigan Senate passed a bill Wednesday that some lawmakers say would better protect nursing home residents from COVID-19.
The Republican-led chamber approved Senate Bill 0956, which challenges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s current policy harnessing 21 regional hubs to care for COVID-19 patients who are meant to be separated from elderly nursing home patients.
Other lawmakers decried the governor's move because the novel coronavirus has ravaged the elderly, as many have pre-existing conditions that compromise their immune system.
U.S. Congressional Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, said the decision “likely contributed to the thousands of elderly deaths in Michigan,” he wrote in a letter to Whitmer, who declined to cooperate with his inquiry.
Under the bill passed Wednesday, each of the eight health care regions would be required to dedicate facilities only for COVID-19 nursing home patients by Sept. 15.
The measure also would require the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate each regional hub's operation and outcomes and report more details to the legislature by July 31, 2020.
Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, sponsored the bill.
“For some yet unknown decision, state officials made decisions to bring COVID-19 patients into facilities with disastrous results,” Lucido said.
Whitmer’s administration “sweetened the deal” by paying nursing homes $5,000 per bed for housing COVID-19 patients and $200 daily per filled bed, Lucido said.
More than one-third, or 2,011, of the state’s deaths have been nursing home residents.
On March 13, Whitmer’s administration refused to follow advice from the Health Care Association of Michigan to use empty facilities to quarantine COVID-19 positive patients, the Detroit News reported.
"We still don’t know how many paid the ultimate price because of these policies”, Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said before the vote.
Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, opposed the bill.
Bayer said her mother, who has dementia, contracted COVID-19 and substantially declined in her mental capacity once she was moved from her original facility.
Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said as soon as a patient tested positive, the bill would remove choices for that person, their family and their doctor.
"I cannot vote for a bill that violates an individual’s basic civil rights," Hertel said.
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.
About seven out of 10 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan were residents ages 70 years and older.
Whitmer’s administration law week ordered nursing facilities to test all residents and staff.