Michigander Brianna Patman says the move could help facilities “actually take care of the people they’ve committed to take care of.”
SOUTHFIELD, MI — Whether or not to move a family member into a nursing home is never an easy choice to make. It was the last thing Brianna Patman wanted to do for her aging grandmother, and her family felt the same way.
“It was really hard on us. She was our rock,” Patman told The ’Gander.
The Southfield family decided that a nursing home would be the best choice for their matriarch, who developed dementia in her later years. Patman said she can’t imagine dealing with the pain and distance of having a loved one in a nursing home during a pandemic.
“I’d be extremely nervous and on edge,” she said. “All they [nursing homes] are doing is checking temperatures, and everyone doesn’t show signs of fever.”
But Gov. Whitmer is working to eliminate some of that stress from families of nursing home residents and employees.
As a response to the pandemic and its rampant run throughout the state’s long-term care facilities, Gov. Whitmer is requiring all nursing home residents and staff to be tested for the coronavirus by July 17. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will oversee the testing.
“We’re doing everything in our power to protect nursing facility residents through mandatory testing, support for adequate staffing, and infection control efforts,” MDHHS director Robert Gordon told The ’Gander of his department’s role in protecting the state’s vulnerable populations.
And the mandates are offering comfort to Michiganders like the Patman family.
“It just makes sense to actually take care of the people they’ve committed to take care of,” Patman said.
Ensuring & Maintaining Michiganders’ Safety
The newly-formed Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force will advise the governor’s office on the best ways to keep Michigan’s elderly residents and their caregivers safe during the pandemic.
“We have taken great strides here in Michigan to protect families from the spread of COVID-19, but we must stay engaged and continue to protect our most vulnerable Michiganders and those who have dedicated their lives to caring for them,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement to the press. “These appointees have the knowledge and professional backgrounds that will help our state protect more nursing home residents and staff in the case of a second wave. I will be working closely with this task force and with everyone who wants to help us protect our most vulnerable populations, the heroes on the front lines, and our families from COVID-19.”
Trese Andrews is a nursing home worker at Regency at St. Clair Shores and the nursing home representative appointed to the task force. She said that she and other workers are putting their lives on the line “every single day without proper PPE [personal protective equipment].”
“I’m excited and proud to be a voice [on the task force] who can speak with first-hand experience on conditions in nursing homes,” said Andrews. “A lot of attention has been paid to resident safety, but not enough to worker safety. I thank the governor for the opportunity to be an advocate for my fellow workers.”
Under the new mandate, nursing homes will need to continue to test all employees and residents beyond the July 17 deadline if there is any suspicion of infection in a facility.
Keeping ‘Em Honest & Attacking Bias
Watchdog organizations are standing by to ensure that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities follow the new testing guidelines. Known colloquially as the “nursing home lawyers,” the Olson, MacKenzie, Peacock and Wallace law firm says holding facilities accountable for ill treatment of patients and workers is a gray area, according to partner Donna MacKenzie.
“Some of these workers were told they’d be fired for wearing masks,” MacKenzie told The ’Gander. “Other facilities have housekeepers going into COVID rooms and non-COVID rooms without changing gowns. There is a widespread problem in these facilities that needs to be addressed. Testing is part of it, but infection control needs to be addressed.”
Nursing home facilities could be considered immune from prosecution for mistreatment of residents and workers during this time, making MacKenzie’s work more difficult.
The Health Care Association of Michigan (HCAM) is also working to ensure the state’s nursing homes are adequately supported to provide needed care during the pandemic. The organization believes that the best way to reduce the coronavirus threat in facilities is through universal testing of staff and residents, according to HCAM president and CEO Melissa Samuel.
“We have seen how successful nursing facilities can be in fighting this virus when given the appropriate resources,” Samuel said. “Under these facilities’ care, hundreds and hundreds of residents are recovering from COVID-19 and returning home.”
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Michigan has organized a walk out for nursing home workers on July 20. The move is meant to bring awareness to the institutional racism present in Michigan’s nursing homes that keep essential workers in poverty.
“[We don’t get] paid sick days or fully-paid testing because facility owners treat us as disposable, not essential,” Andrews said. “Thousands of workers and residents have needlessly lost their lives. I’ve seen first-hand how this virus is devastating the Black community, exposing the systemic racism that has always existed.”
The Strike for Black Lives plans to target six southeastern Michigan nursing homes to demand owners address institutional racism within the facilities. Nearly half of Michigan’s most deadly nursing homes were cited for violations of state protocols, according to a Detroit News report.
“That’s why I’m going on Strike for Black Lives: to demand greater protections for my coworkers, our residents and working people across the nation.”
Gov. Whitmer signed an executive order on Monday extending coronavirus protections for long-term care facility residents and essential workers.
“The frontline workers across the state have been the heroes of this pandemic and we must do everything we can to protect both them and our most vulnerable Michiganders,” Gov. Whitmer said. “This virus is still widespread and poses a real danger to our families, and these extensions will be crucial in protecting both frontline workers, customers and our most vulnerable populations.”