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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan to identify nursing homes infected by the coronavirus

As deaths from the coronavirus continue to ravage many of Michigan 450 nursing homes, state health officials revealed to Bridge Magazine it will list the names of long-term care facilities infected by the virus.

The move comes as hundreds of residents of Michigan nursing homes have been infected or died in connection with the coronavirus. At least 18 other states, most recently Florida, have already begun to publicly list nursing facilities which have COVID-19 cases; some states have been listing these facilities for weeks.

Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for Michigan’s Department of Health Human Services,  told Bridge the department expects to list long-term facilities with COVID-19 on its website “sometime this week.”

“I don’t have complete info on what will be reported and when, but I know there are plans to list the facilities,” Sutfin said in an email in response to Bridge inquiries. 

The list is expected to include nursing homes as well as adult foster care homes and homes for the aged, the latter a category of care for the elderly who need less intensive medical care than a nursing home.

According to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, there are 292 homes for the aged and 4,211 adult foster care homes in Michigan with total bed capacity of more than 57,000.

Bridge has reported extensively on Michigan’s lack of transparency regarding nursing home COVID-19 infections, with watchdog groups saying elderly residents are put at added risk when no information is publicly released about coronavirus infections. Public reporting is especially valuable in a state like Michigan, which has suffered heavily in the pandemic and has a high number of nursing homes which have been cited in recent years for failing to prevent or control infections.  

“This is good news,” Sarah Slocum, co-director of the Program to Improve Eldercare at Altarum, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit research and consulting firm, told Bridge Magazine of the state’s decision to publicly identify care facilities with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“I’m glad the state is making this information public. The general public needs to have real information about the impact of coronavirus so they are dealing with actual data and not speculation.

“For family members, this is a critical piece of information for anyone considering a nursing home or someone with a loved one in a nursing home.”

The new policy comes as the median age of those dying in Michigan from COVID-19 has been rising, perhaps pointing to the growing number of nursing homes with multiple deaths from the virus.

The latest: A Genesee County nursing home where 17 resident deaths were reported on Saturday, with an additional 24 residents testing positive, seven of whom were hospitalized. Twenty-six employees tested positive.

That followed reports that 21 residents had died of COVID-19 at two Wayne County nursing homes, with 46 other residents with confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

On Friday, an official at Hillsdale Hospital in rural southern Michigan reported that a county nursing home had 42 cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents, accounting for seven nursing home deaths among 10 total coronavirus deaths in the county.

On April 1, the median age of Michigan COVID-19 deaths was 72. By Thursday, that number had risen to 75.  In the past week, fully 42 percent of Michigan deaths involved people 80 or older. 

As of Monday, overall COVID-19 deaths in Michigan exceeded 2,400, with 32,000 confirmed cases.

Michigan’s move to public disclosure on nursing home COVID-19 cases follows an announcement Sunday by federal officials that U.S. nursing homes will be required to inform residents, their families and representatives when residents or staff contract the illness.

It also follows an executive order Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued last week intended to better protect residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Among other things, the order requires facilities to report confirmed cases of residents with COVID-19 to staff within 12 hours, and to the local health department and MDHHS within 24 hours.

Beginning Tuesday, MDHHS also required all long-term care facilities to submit daily reports of COVID-19 cases and deaths to the department as well as their bed capacity and inventory of personal protective equipment.

According to a NBC News report on Wednesday, 17 states had disclosed the names of nursing homes with known coronavirus infections. Eight of those posted lists online.

In hard-hit Detroit, the disclosure of nursing homes with COVID-19 is a moot point, as Detroit officials have said that all the city’s nursing homes have confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.

On Friday, Mayor Mike Duggan said at least 98 Detroit nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, out of more than 530 overall deaths in the city. He said 30 percent of nursing home residents tested for the virus so far were positive for COVID-19.

National reports reflect similar sobering numbers for nursing home deaths. A New York State report found that nearly half of that state’s COVID-19 deaths in the western part of the state were among nursing home residents.

A New York Times analysis of U.S. COVID-19 deaths found one-fifth were among nursing homes, with the actual total likely far higher because of incomplete reporting of coronavirus deaths by nursing homes.

Health officials have warned for weeks that elderly residents of nursing homes are at grave risk of contracting COVID-19.

A report from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 15 percent of people in their 80s who contracted the virus died. Experts say that rate is likely higher for seniors with underlying conditions like heart and lung disease and diabetes, which are common among nursing home residents.

Given that reality, Slocum of Altarum said: “Even if it’s bad news [in infections at specific nursing homes], people are better equipped to deal with real information than what’s in their imagination."

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