More than 1,900 coronavirus deaths in Michigan nursing homes

One in three Michigan deaths relating to COVID-19 involved a nursing home. (Shutterstock image)

One-third of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan occurred among residents and staff of the state’s 450 nursing homes, according to the first detailed accounting of the pandemic’s deadly toll in nursing homes. 

The numbers are staggering: 1,947 residents and 20 staffers died. In many counties, 50 percent or more of coronavirus deaths were traced to nursing homes. 

In many homes, the grief was profound. According to the state, 33 nursing homes suffered 20 or more deaths related to the coronavirus. 

While grim, the figures released by state health officials Monday account for just a portion of COVID-19 deaths involving residents in long-term care facilities. Michigan has still not said how many cases or deaths have been recorded in hundreds of other facilities that house seniors or the disabled, such as homes for the aged or assisted-living centers. 

Even among nursing homes, there are some questions whether the state numbers released Monday are accurate. For example, the state is reporting that the Boulevard Temple nursing home in Detroit had zero deaths. Yet the city’s own nursing home report shows 18 deaths there. At another Detroit nursing home, the state shows more deaths than the city recorded. 


Still, the numbers produced a more tangible portrait of COVID-19 suffering at nursing homes than previously disclosed. 

“I feel conflicted because now that we have the data, it’s tragic,” Alison Hirschel, managing attorney at the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative, said of the nursing home numbers.

She added, though, that she was encouraged by an executive order signed Monday by Robert Gordon, director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, that mandates regular testing of staff and residents — what Hirschel called “the single most important” part of any response to control the viral spread of the virus within nursing homes.

Nursing homes face a $1,000 fine each day they don’t comply — a “significant” penalty, Hirschel said. The state also could “stop or hold Medicaid payments,” according to the order.

The state has been reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 in individual nursing homes for weeks, but Monday’s report is the first comprehensive accounting of deaths. In several counties, nursing homes were the main source of coronavirus infections and deaths in a state that has recorded more than 60,000 cases and 5,772 deaths.

For instance, in Berrien County along Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan, 41 of the county’s 57 deaths were in nursing homes. Of those, 36 were in two facilities in Benton Harbor and Niles.

In Marquette County, 8 of the 11 deaths were among residents at the Norlite Nursing Center.

And in Livingston County, a largely suburban county outside Detroit, 27 deaths occurred in three nursing homes — equal to the county's total — including 10 in a facility that acted as a “hub” for COVID-19 cases. Some of the deaths at the "hub" locations were residents of other counties. 


Statewide, 200 residents and three staffers who died were in 17 hub facilities scattered across Michigan. 

The most nursing home deaths occurred in metro Detroit, with Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties reporting 710, 377 and 307 nursing home deaths respectively, or 32 percent of all deaths in those counties.

Legislators had crictized a Whitmer administration policy that had required nursing home to accept recovered COVID-19 patients if they had enough personal protective gear on hand. On Monday the admistration changed that policy to say they were only required to accept those patients if they had a dedicated COVID-19 wing.

Testing — and a hammer

Gordon said in a media call Monday the state waited to impose the testing order until it could assure nursing homes would have “adequate access” to tests they need to comply with the mandate.

“Hindsight is always 20-20,” Gordon said, referring to how the state has handled COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state.

Hirshel said the move to mandatory testing is crucial because “we can’t get our arms around the problem if we don’t know who is COVID-positive and who isn’t,” she said.

The head of a lobbying group for a nursing home industry group in Michigan acknowledged that the threat of a $1,000 fine is “probably what’s needed” if facilities fail to comply with the state’s orders.

Testing, too, is “essential,” because staff and residents may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, slipping through screening and spreading infection long before the first symptom is reported, said Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan, which represents more than 350 of the state’s nursing homes.

“If testing had been widely available from the outset, you would not have had such significant spread,” Samuel said. “Testing is the key, and it’s absolutely the path forward.”

Additionally, homes must file timely reports on case counts, personal protective equipment and staff shortages at nursing homes.


The order issued Monday requires weekly testing of any resident or staff member with symptoms or suspected exposure, and weekly testing of all previously negative residents and staff in homes with any positive cases until 14 days after the most recent positive result.

Nursing home facilities must submit plans for testing by June 22 and to put those plans in place by June 29, under the MDHHS order.

MDHHS also announced it would provide staff help for nursing homes with staff shortages, beginning in Southeast and West Michigan, by providing registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and personal care aides for up to 14 days of homes experiencing shortages.

Detroit facility had many deaths, staff complaints

The death count includes 43 residents at a Detroit nursing home, Ambassador Villa, the focal point of a complaint in April by the union that represents staff, alleging the home violated state and national guidelines for COVID-19.

The 43 deaths is the most at any single nursing home, records show, though the city of Detroit reports a far lower number, 27 deaths, at the facility.

According to the Service Employees International Union, the facility’s owner, Healthcare Michigan, refused to tell workers if they tested positive for the coronavirus and told one employee to return to work even though the worker had possible coronavirus symptoms. The union also alleged the home was short of protective gear.

“One employee forced to work … was still suffering from a shortness of breath, unable to taste or smell, still has somewhat of a cough and a temperature of 99.5 degrees,” the union said.

The nursing home at the time posted on its website this message: “We understand that this is a time of anxiety and concern for many. Our reliance on factual data and scientific evidence allows us to implement changes aimed at minimizing the potential of exposure to COVID19 and planning for the care and treatment of any resident who may test positive for the virus.”

The home Monday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite advances, data gaps remain

But Monday’s long-awaited disclosure of nursing home deaths still leaves a large reporting gap for tens of thousands of vulnerable Michigan residents. 

MDHHS has yet to disclose COVID-19 cases and deaths at adult foster care homes, homes for the aged and unlicensed assisted-living centers — that combined have the capacity to house far more seniors and disabled residents than the state’s roughly 450 nursing homes. 

While Michigan nursing homes have a capacity of 46,000 residents, combined capacity at these other facilities exceeds 56,000.

MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told Bridge the department launched “a reporting structure” for those facilities to identify COVID-19 cases and deaths on May 22 and expected the first reports on COVID-19 cases to come in by early June.

MDHHS, she said, “plans to take some time to review and validate this information. At this point, we do not have plans to post the information on the website, but will be discussing this when the data is more complete.”

Throughout Michigan, 7,163 nursing home residents were infected with the coronavirus, as well as 3,133 staff members, according to state data released Monday. That total of 10,306 nursing home cases is more than the overall number of coronavirus cases in 14 states

The numbers mean that roughly 1 in every 6 nursing home residents statewide contracted the new coronavirus.

The scale of the nursing home deaths is, unfortunately, not surprising: People 70 and older comprised nearly 70 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Michigan.

Seniors have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, a respiratory illness that has ravaged much of the globe, including the United States. 

According to an analysis in early May, 42 percent of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths were residents living in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The New York Times reported that same month that, based on its own database, nursing home residents and staff made up 1 in 3 of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths.

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Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:11am

It was known in early March that Covid19 kills disproportionately our senior population and people with underlying conditions, so why would covid19 patients be moved to nursing homes? At the end of the day the governor is responsible for the nursing home / senior care faculties because of the Emergency Powers that is currently still in place. Also, check into the safety protocols of nursing homes and when were they enhanced? At some nursing homes staffers were told in early April that they couldn't wear face masks.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:17am

Report all the facts. Be like Donald Trump. If we did not do any more testing we would not have any more cases of the virus. REALLY.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:28am

I don't blame anyone for being unprepared for this virus when it swept over us and caught us unprepared at first. But, we are now over 3 months into this mess! With all the publicity over these 3 months about the danger to the elderly, and the early warnings about nursing facilities in other states being so vulnerable, why did it take our Governor until this week to release the results of nursing home fatalities? These are state licensed facilities, and as such, are accountable to the State. And, more importantly, why did it take her until Monday to reverse a policy that was so devastating to our seniors? Wake up Michigan!!! Elderly lives matter too! That may be you some day.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 1:06pm

My 96 year old mother lives in the American House and they did not loose one person!!!!
Not own by money hunger doctors!!!

Death Camps
Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:54am

The Governor turned Michigan's nursing homes into death camps with her orders to house sick people with healthy people.

She's touting how many lives she's supposedly saved, but will she take credit for the 1,900 deaths that her orders caused?

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 1:07pm

Stop watching fox new they only lie and lie and lie then lie about lying!@!!!

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 10:06am

Michigan is just now getting around to 100% testing in nursing homes per the Detroit Free Press. Florida was one of the states that immediately quarantined and ordered testing 100% of nursing home residents and help, and even developed a mobile testing lab that would go from site to site. Florida, with more than double the population of Michigan had, on a per capita basis, less than 25% of the deaths and about 50% of the cases that Michigan had. New York was similar to Michigan. The difference? Leadership. A Republican Governor in Florida vs. democrats in Michigan and New York. Never saw the FL governor on the nightly talk shows preening for a VP slot, nor on daily updates answering cream puff questions from his well known newsperson brother. And people say Trump did nothing? Well the border was closed to the suspected source 10 days after the first reported death way back in January while the democrats were advertising 'come to Chinatown in San Fransisco'.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 1:12pm

More Lies from fox news>>>> the infection rate in Florida is up to 100% thank to the republican governor same with AZ, and TX ALL red states have very high infection>>> seems that ever state were trump has been in the last 3 weeks are loosing the battle with the virus!
Thank to OUR governor who I do not like ( closet republican) we are winning the battle Except for them armed brain damaged trump sheeps who attack OUR capital! They have giving the virus to their families!!!!

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 10:30am

Here’s some facts:
1.COVID-19 can be spread by people who are infected but have few or no symptoms and it is very contagious.
2. Skilled-care facilities have many workers that come and go every day, so eliminating visitors does not eliminate the risk of infection.
3. There was a critical shortage of PPE as the virus hit. Every single worker who entered a facility needed to have it, and didn’t.
4. There were not enough tests available, so nobody knew if there were asymptomatic cases. Or symptomatic ones, for that matter.
5. Lacking better places for people who were recovering from COVID-19 and were discharged from hospitals, but weren’t well enough to recover at home, these patients were sent to nursing homes.
It added up to a perfect storm. Remember that skilled care facilities are already held to a very high standard of infection protocols; in many cases they were already doing everything they could, but with insufficient PPE, it was impossible to protect their residents. Yes, some facilities did a poor job and didn’t care about, or for, their patients.
But most of them were-and still are—dealing with a ghastly and heartbreaking set of events as they watched their beloved residents suffer and die, without their families at their bedsides.

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 1:02pm

Most nursing homes are own by doctors who way under pay the staff and do not have the required number of Nurses!!! and they charge the people for services that they do not receive!!! The need to all be charged with murdering of these old people!!!!

Geoffrey Owen
Tue, 06/16/2020 - 5:04pm

It costs $10,000 for my mothers care in an assisted living facility. The care is no better than the quality of the training the care givers receive and their pay is a huge part of determining the quality of the care. None of the 1900 deaths got ill because they went out of the facility. The virus came to visit grandma, and it came with the care givers. Not a good thing that we didn't have numbers tracking this three months ago and not good that regulations for care were not in place.