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Michigan regulators to decide on key nursing home COVID-19 policies by Nov. 15

Republicans mostly pleased with new indoor visitation policy for nursing homes
Michigan nursing homes are allowing indoor visits again.
Michigan nursing homes are allowing indoor visits again.
Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 1:21 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - New legislation signed into law Thursday requires two Michigan agencies to maintain oversight of nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic while implementing a series of key policies.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law Thursday requiring the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to evaluate the operations, outcomes and performance of facilities related to COVID-19.

The departments also must work together on setting a statewide visitation policy for nursing homes around the state, along with plans for COVID-19 testing and establishing dedicated recovery facilities. Those measures and other key goals are due by Nov. 15.

Whitmer previously issued orders for both state departments and long-term care facilities to follow during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law she used to make the orders is unconstitutional and the orders cannot be enforced as laws.

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature approved a number of bills during a late-night session last week transforming many of Whitmer’s orders into state laws, including some bills covering nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced a new policy Wednesday that allows nursing homes to begin indoor visits for the first time in seven months on Oct. 26. Facilities in counties that are not at the highest risk level for COVID-19 spread and that haven’t confirmed a case of the illness in two weeks can participate.

Visitors are required to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from residents, wear a face covering and take a basic health screening for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the facility.

Republican lawmakers called the new nursing home visitation policy “a step in the right direction.” State Rep. Bronna Kahle of Adrian said the lack of indoor visits since March could contribute to cognitive decline or depression for elderly residents.

“Over the past several months, I have worked closely with those involved in administering long-term care facilities, and the realities on the ground have been quite severe and tragic for our loved ones residing in these facilities,” she said. “Almost everyone I had conversations with stressed the importance of permitting indoor visitations to help offset the acceleration of degenerative cognitive conditions and depression.”

Kahle remains concerned about linking facilities' ability to offer indoor visits to the MI Safe Start map, which determines the risk of coronavirus spread based on the number of new cases per million people and percentage of positive tests. She would rather link nursing home visits to county COVID-19 data.

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