By Sen. Curt VanderWall
35th Senate District
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great suffering to Michigan since the state’s first confirmed case appeared in March.
Much of our sorrow was unavoidable as we tried to contain a highly contagious, deadly virus with no vaccine. Sadly, despite good efforts, tens of thousands of residents got sick, and thousands died.
But one sad aspect of this pandemic certainly could have been mitigated greatly if not avoided altogether, and that is the great disaster that has occurred in our nursing homes.
At the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19, epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists and other experts soon discovered that the elderly were particularly vulnerable to this disease.
Partly in response to this knowledge, the national Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the document “Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes” on March 13, 2020.
The document provided a plan for states to follow when trying to control outbreaks of coronavirus in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
What some leaders in our state have seemingly failed to grasp is that nursing homes are not hospitals, and they are not designed to provide the type of care necessary for COVID-19 patients. Perhaps more importantly, since nursing homes house the population that is most vulnerable to the coronavirus, these facilities are not appropriate places to house patients with the disease.
Yet on April 15, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the unfortunate Executive Order 2020-50, requiring certain nursing homes to care for COVID-19-affected residents — despite the risk to other nursing home residents.
This order by the governor made no sense. It directly contradicted the experts’ knowledge of the disease, clear medical evidence and the guidance of the health community.
Since this executive order, Gov. Whitmer has been asked several times to release important nursing facility data — including data regarding deaths — related to how COVID-19 was affecting these facilities.
The Health Care Association of Michigan sent a letter to the governor recommending that recovering patients be sent to the field hospitals and not into nursing homes. Tragically, continuing to act alone, the governor ignored HCAM and other calls and kept her executive order in place.
The governor could have chosen to release this data much, much earlier. At that point, the Legislature and the governor, working together, could have constructed a more appropriate response to the dire situation.
Why didn’t the governor release this data earlier? And why has she constantly made her decisions alone, without the input of the co-equal Legislature?
Gov. Whitmer’s reckless choices have cost lives. As of June 23, there have been 2,011 deaths due to COVID-19 in Michigan nursing homes, which constitutes 34.3% of all deaths by the disease reported in the state.
It is too late to bring those lives back, but the governor must take responsibility for her decisions.
Please call Gov. Whitmer at 517-335-7858 to let her know that her actions are unacceptable, and she must work with the Legislature to craft better solutions going forward.
This op-ed appeared in the June 30 edition of the Manistee News Advocate. Senator Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Policy and Human Services. He serves the residents of the 35th Senate District, representing the counties of Benzie, Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Osceola, Roscommon and Wexford. He can be reached at 517-373-1725 or [email protected].