Whitmer launches nursing home task force to guard against future COVID cases

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 11:47 PM EDT
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday the creation of the Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force, taking aim at ongoing risks to the state’s most vulnerable population.

“The pandemic is constantly evolving and our guidance and handling of it should be as well,” explained Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Michigan, the trade organization which represents a majority of the state’s nursing homes.

Under executive order 2020-135, Whitmer calls for a bi-partisan approach focused on analyzing the data and making recommendations.

Melissa Samuel tells ABC 12 she was named one of the task force’s first members.

“I welcome the governor calling for the task force,” began Samuel. “It’s critical that we are in a constant state of analysis and discussion, particularly with this profession.”

The announcement comes as the Governor’s office continues to catch flack from lawmakers over a controversial policy which places coronavirus patients in nursing homes with otherwise healthy seniors. Samuel tells ABC 12 she advised the nursing homes she represents against complying, but said they were never forced to do so.

“They’ve always had the ability to, if they could not safely take a COVID positive patient, to say no,” explained Samuel. “That, in fact, did happen.”

According to the state health department, there were 7304 cases involving seniors in long-term care facilities as of Friday. Residents account for one in three coronavirus deaths statewide.

“What happened in Michigan was, again, the perfect storm,” related Samuel. “When you have all of that converging, unfortunately… there were some negative outcomes.”

Whitmer has admitted she might have done things differently. One of the task force’s top priorities: a sounding board for different strategies before Michigan’s long-term care facilities are wracked, as health experts warn, with a potential second wave.

“We need to focus on the testing strategy which is absolutely underway in Michigan,” said Samuel. “Testing is critical for our path forward out of this.”

The deadline for the task force to submit that plan to the governor’s office is August 31st. The details of its meetings and specific agenda have yet to be released.