Seniors dying from coronavirus. Michigan still won’t name nursing homes

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed an order meant to protect nursing home residents and staff from the coronavirus. Her administration still does not list the names of nursing homes with the virus, however. 

April 21 update: Michigan to identify nursing homes infected by the coronavirus

More than 2,200 coronavirus deaths have now been recorded in Michigan, and one recent trend has been stark: the rising age of people dying from the virus.  

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.  

Anecdotal reports suggest the virus is exacting a grim toll in nursing homes across the state, with the most recent, by the Detroit Free Press, chronicling hundreds of confirmed cases and dozens of deaths. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has taken note, stepping up coronavirus safety protocols in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. 

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“I will continue to do everything in my power to protect Michiganders everywhere from the spread of this virus,” she said in a statement.

Everything, that is, except tell the public which nursing homes are infected with COVID-19. 

A growing number of states are now publicly listing the names of nursing homes where residents or nursing staff have tested positive for the coronavirus.

But as Bridge has reported, Michigan won’t say which of the state’s 450 nursing homes are battling infections. Whitmer’s office did not return Bridge inquiries this week asking about its policy. 

It’s a void, critics say, that continues to keep nursing home residents and their families in the dark during a deadly pandemic. 

“As long as it does not identify individuals in homes, I do not see a good reason for [the names of nursing homes] not to be made public,” said Sarah Slocum, co-director of the Program to Improve Eldercare, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit research and advocacy platform.

“We are already seeing through media reports that certain nursing homes have become hotspots. That alone should make it a priority for public surveillance. This is data the public would want to track.”

Health officials have warned for weeks that elderly residents of nursing homes are at grave risk of contracting COVID-19 and dying. 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 those  seniors with underlying conditions like heart and lung disease and diabetes.

A national advocate for improved nursing home care has called the Whitmer administration’s failure to identify infected homes “a travesty.”

“This is a disservice to residents and health care workers and especially the families who are out there wondering if there is an outbreak in a loved one’s home,” Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, a Texas-based nonprofit advocacy group, told Bridge earlier this month.

Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday in an effort 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 within 24 hours. Facilities must also keep up-to-date records on supplies of personal protective equipment.     


    Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services also added data to its website listing the number of “congregate settings” in Michigan by county with “respiratory outbreaks.” It’s unclear how many of those are COVID-19, and the department does not separate nursing homes from other group settings such as prisons or homeless shelters. 

    Bridge reached out to a spokesperson for MDHHS and asked if the department would disclose the names of nursing homes with COVID-19 cases or deaths. The spokesperson provided a link to the new "congregate settings" data and, after this article was published, sent the following statement:

    "We are glad we could move forward this week with posting the number of congregate care facilities reporting cases of respiratory illness on our website, which would include COVID-19. Currently, not all nursing homes report to the local health departments regarding a case or outbreak, and therefore our current data reflects only those who have proactively reached out to report and request assistance. There are likely others who have not reported, and we are actively working on policy changes that would address that. We look forward to continuing to improve data reporting and sharing that information with the public."

    Slocum, the Ann Arbor eldercare advocate, said that until recently the lack of statewide reporting on COVID-19 in nursing homes made it hard for public health officials to know where resources like masks and gowns are needed.

    “For personal protective equipment, how do you effectively ascertain where that equipment is needed?” she said.

    She said it’s possible Whitmer’s executive order could help health officials target possible nursing hotspots, given that it requires homes to report COVID-19 cases to local health departments.

    Earlier this month, Detroit Mayor Duggan launched a plan to send medical students to test for COVID-19 in each of the city’s 27 nursing homes. But Vickie Winn, spokesperson for the Detroit Health Department, told Bridge it would not release the names of homes with positive tests or list the number of positive tests in those homes.

    “To preserve the privacy of these institutions, their residents and staff, details of COVID-19 testing are not being shared publicly at this time,” she said in a statement.

    That may be a moot point now, as Detroit officials have said that all the city’s nursing homes have confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

    On Friday, 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 so far were positive for COVID-19.

    News reports and scattered public reporting suggest that number is rising.

    According to the Detroit Free Press, Wayne County officials said 94 of the county's 272 confirmed COVID-19 deaths (a count that does not include Detroit)  were nursing home residents as of April 10, based on the department's review of the Michigan Disease Surveillance System.

    In the meantime, the public is left with what seems like random disclosure of nursing homes with significant COVID-19 outbreaks. These reports could come from news stories, a local county health department – or the nursing home itself.

    On April 10, the Wayne County Health Department reported 21 residents had died of COVID-19 at two nursing homes, with 46 other residents with confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

    In Genesee County, health officials confirmed four COVID-19 deaths and 16 total cases at a Grand Blanc Township nursing home. In March, a Kent County nursing home issued a statement acknowledging that 31 residents and five staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. Six residents have since died.

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

    Other states are far more transparent than the Whitmer administration in identifying coronavirus deaths linked to nursing homes. 

    In Washington state, where the Life Care Center of Kirkland registered 167 infections and 37 deaths, the state Department of Social and Health Services earlier this month listed the names and locations of 137 long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases, broken down by nursing homes, assisted-living centers, adult family homes and other facilities.  

    Connecticut lists nursing homes where residents test positive for the coronavirus, and breaks down state totals by residents who are sick, hospitalized or who have died from the virus. Tennessee recently began listing the names of facilities where there were confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

    While there’s no firm national data on the number of COVID-19 deaths tied to nursing homes, an NBC News investigation found the number of reported U.S. deaths in long-term care facilities doubled in a week, to 5,670 as of Wednesday. The report said the actual number is likely “significantly higher” because of incomplete reporting in many states.

    An NBC News survey found that state health departments in 17 states disclosed the names of nursing homes with COVID-19 cases. (A Maryland publication, Baltimore Brew, put the number of states at 19.) Michigan was not among them.’

    The federal government does not track nursing home residents who have died from the virus or the numbers of facilities that have had outbreaks.

    Teena Chopra, a professor of infectious diseases at Wayne State University who leads infection control for the Detroit Medical Center’s eight hospitals, tied many of its COVID-19 deaths to a high rate of elderly patients sickened at area nursing homes. DMC does not publicly report the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

     "We are seeing a lot of nursing home populations brought to us very sick, and coming to us with severe illness," she said.

    Underlying health issues may make the symptoms of COVID-19 more difficult to detect in nursing home populations, she said, because "their biological age is different from their physical age."

    "They have very subtle symptoms, because their immunity is lower and they may not mount a fever like others can," she said. It may be several days before caregivers suspect a COVID-19 infection "and by then it's too late.

      Although the city of Detroit has begun a project to test nursing home staff and residents, Chopra expressed frustration that it hadn't happened sooner and also said it shouldn't be limited to Detroit.

      "We need to test everybody in a nursing home and separate the positive cases from the ones who are negative," she said.

      Bridge reporter Kelly House contributed to this report.


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      Fri, 04/17/2020 - 8:58pm

      This happens every year. My wife worked as a nurse in a nursing home type of facility in Canada. Where by the way, provide much better care to residents than here. Because here it is a money making enterprise where they can't pay their employees so they are understaffed always to make a little profit. Anyways she dreaded when the flu or a respiratory virus season would come and enter her facility. Like the article says many of them already have compromising health conditions. And many of the patients she would care for would get sick and pass away from pneumonia. Why do they make everything sound worse, when these things are not new and they never payed attention to them before. It's like they are trying to find every reason for this disaster to hide behind bad decision making on behalf of the experts, and the media keeps fanning these flames into a crisis. We have relatives all over the world they have no idea why they are doing what their doing either in there own countries. It like a bunch lemmings. Makes you wonder if this isn't the day of reckoning for a culmination of all our wrong choices. Time will tell.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:07am

      It is the same here in the states most nursing home are own by doctors and they under pay the workers!!

      Bad News
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:27pm

      Don't know if they are doctors, but typically large uncaring corporations. They just medicate all the patients so they can't advocate for themselves. Rare to fine good facilities no matter how much you pay or how fancy they look.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 8:47am

      Ugh! I cannot read anymore of these articles. Don't old people in nursing homes usually die? Don't people over 80 die everyday? At least they have in my family. Why are you and the rest if the media hyping this so much?

      Compassionate T...
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:14am

      It's called compassion. You might not find it in your liberal dictionary, but if you can locate a more inclusive one it'll be there.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:31pm

      "Liberal dictionary"? Lorraine doesn't sound like any liberal I know. She does sound like a lot of conservatives I know, greedy types that want their inheritance.

      Sun, 04/19/2020 - 7:16am

      FYI. I am 74 years old! What inheritance am I getting?

      Kathleen Kalil
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 8:55am

      When I read your articles I feel like I've gone back in time to a place when there was real objective reporting. Well done.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 9:52am

      The fact that respiratory illnesses exist every year in nursing homes is no excuse for the Governor not to disclose the count of Covid 19 cases and the actual locations where they are occurring. We don’t lose our rights in this country just because we are old and families need and have right to know what is going on with their loved ones. Steps can’t be taken to improve the spread if we don’t know the greatest areas that need special protocols. Someday this could be happening to any one of us. This is a travesty that needs to be fully exposed! Thank you for another great article!

      Mon, 04/20/2020 - 3:30pm

      I agree with you completely. It is hypocritical to talk of protecting our most vulnerable population when there is no disclosure on their status. I speak as one who has an elderly relative in assisted living currently in shut-down mode. The only information I get on if there is an outbreak is from the facility itself, which is suspect. All one can look at is finally the congregate numbers are published (after pressure) and seeing the high numbers 61 for Wayne and 56 for Oakland, the conclusion is they all have a COVID-19 outbreak. Why can't we be as transparent as other states? It might actually calm people about the death rate if they see a large percentage comes from congregate living situations. While the rest of us with family members in such a situation will be able to see how dire it is and prepare ourselves.

      Kevin Grand
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 9:28am

      Mr. Roelofs, are you really so obtuse as to WHY Gov. Karen isn't releasing that information?

      Ask yourself this: If a family with a loved one in a nursing home realizes that same home was now infected with the Huwan Virus, what would be the very first thing that family would do?

      Gov. Karen wants to control people for as long as she can. Keeping them ignorant and scared makes that easier to accomplish. She cannot do that (easily), if the is honest.

      No to Gov Karen
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:23pm

      I know, just euthanize them and open the economy. Darwin was right.

      Math Sux
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 9:03pm

      Mentioned before...

      IF we lost 1 million US citizens to CoViD19 and had kept the economy going, the last *stimulus/rescue/pork" bill that sent some people $1200.00, could have, instead, paid surviving families $2.2 million. Even if it got REALLY bad and 2 million would have died, surviving families could have received $1.1 million.

      Soooo, what about the reports out of CA saying infection rates could be 85x higher due to people not showing/having minor symptoms. What is a life worth? What is the long term financial stability of the economy worth? What is the break point? Tough calls, all beyond my pay grade but I think we need to understand just how much money went out to the country...and really didn't do much; one-and-done.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:36pm

      None of your comments are worthy of address as long as you use words like Gov Karen and Huwan Virus. You appear childish. The governor is Gretchen Whitmer and the virus is COVID-19. Are you just lonely, starved for attention?

      Math Sux
      Sun, 04/19/2020 - 9:31am

      Is "China Virus" better? Be honest with yourself; mainland China is run by a central party of dedicated communists, who also happen to view the world through a distinctly eastern mind. Sure, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region, Peoples Republic of China) is nominally a capitalist enclave but the leadership of the country are NOT our friends. Given the level of *official* government indoctrination and social differences between rural and urban China, coupled with disparities in information availability across the country, the population is not entirely Western friendly, either.

      This is the reality; no amount of Nat Geo articles or "gosh, I sure want to feel good and love everyone" will make it change. China is the source, possibly the cause, and we are falling apart over naming conventions or a barbed comment about or elected officials? Please...

      Reply to Concerned
      Mon, 04/20/2020 - 5:30pm

      I agree- the name of the virus is the Kung Flu and her name Halfwit. Get it right. Although I suppose that rather than debate what the virus is named or what funny nickname our Governor is called, we could talk about the policy responses and why they were wrong and resulted in thousands of people dying and our economic being destroyed and civil liberties being broken. But hey- I'd rather engage you on what funny nicknames you gave to things and then call you childish.

      Susie Que
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 5:37pm

      Wait- are you suggesting that reason why she isn't releasing information and isn't telling people where she is getting this 'science' from is because by keeping all the information herself she gets more power? Are you suggesting that the information which she is relying on might possibly be released by Chinese-run institutions or by groups that have been wildly inaccurate, and she's hiding these facts from us because she doesn't want the people to know?

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 9:50am

      When it is O.K. go visit a nursing home. I do and have for years done that daily.. Not now. Iam hospice trained and have dealt with death all my adult life. The alternatives for care of the elderly are very limited and or very expensive. Private pay over $100,000 a year for a nursing home $300 per day for someone to come and be in your home. Our health care system is broken. Under staffed and under paid employees. Love to hear from you. R.L.

      Pro Life
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:39pm

      You are so right and unfortunately the most expensive ones are no better. I know from experience with families in rehab at different facilities. Once you are in assisted living, they just want to use all your life savings let you die soon thereafter. The only thing worse than senior care in this country is general healthcare in this country. Human life has no meaning here unless it's a fetus.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 9:53am

      I know personally a nursing home that two weeks ago would not allow workers to wear masks and a week later said you must. They felt it frightened and scared the residents. REALLY. Love to hear from you. They do a job 80% of people would not or could not do.

      A Yooper
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:22am

      I used to be a Health Facility Surveyor for the Division of Medicaid and Medicare Services in Idaho. We were tasked with inspecting general hospitals, End Stage Renal Disease clinics, state hospitals, laboratories, facilities for serving persons with developmental disabilities, nursing homes, etc. Essentially any organization receiving these federal monies. We would inspect those facilities applying for a brand new license, yearly inspections for license renewal, and investigate all allegations of neglect, mistreatment and abuse. A State license is required because the State is the federal funds recipient who then disburses the monies to the licensed facilities. Due to federal cutbacks, most states don't have enough surveyors to do all the group homes, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. That's it in a nutshell. A very sad indictment on our state and country as a whole.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:44pm

      Agree, but we all did get a great tax break last year and stimulus checks now, right? Sarcasm because all GOP policies are designed to make the rich richer, the poor, middle and working poor classes poorer. Only Sanders, Warren, and maybe Yang get it. Let's hope they can sway Biden to make some meaningful changes. We have absolutely no hope with the GOP and ESPECIALLY Trump. Greed kills.

      Eric Snow
      Tue, 04/21/2020 - 11:29pm

      Does the money come from Medicare or does it come from Medicaid?

      Alex Chance
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:25am

      Sounds like a good idea releasing this information... looks like the Governor isn't going to do it. I'm not surprised.

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 4:50pm

      Why don't the facilities release it?

      One In The Know
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 11:23am

      One of the nursing homes is Medi Lodge in Alpena, MI

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 2:59pm

      What would the upside of making the names of the nursing facilities affected publicly available? There are moves being made at a state and internal level to limit spread within the homes (although as people have said, it is a little late in some cases), and making specific homes names available would open up opportunities for reactionary and fearful responses. People would see that a known nursing home was affected, and make calls to everyone they knew to get their families out ASAP - which seems like a good idea but would likely be as bad or worse. Moving the more immunocompromised and more ‘fragile’ members of society between nursing homes opens them up to a lot more danger in the moving process, allows for spread between nursing homes that may have previously unaffected, and just leads to general fear-mongering.
      I don’t particularly see an upside to releasing specific nursing homes and private health information of this detail to the public - I think identifying regions of nursing homes affected, as well as holding them highly accountable to what goes on in their facilities is all that needs to be done.

      Erwin Haas
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 7:29pm

      The median lifespan at a nursing home is 5 months. (The average is 14 months because a few live for many years.) That means that 10% of the 1.4-5 million old people in NH die every month-normally, and that figure routinely goes up during the late winter and spring with influenza.
      And a lot of folks die with covid-19, not of it. Maybe the nursing homes save people's lives.
      Can't Bridgmi find the money to hire people who can ask simple questions and report just the facts without putting a guilt trip on someone in their whipping boy group?

      Erwin Haas
      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 7:29pm

      The median lifespan at a nursing home is 5 months. (The average is 14 months because a few live for many years.) That means that 10% of the 1.4-5 million old people in NH die every month-normally, and that figure routinely goes up during the late winter and spring with influenza.
      And a lot of folks die with covid-19, not of it. Maybe the nursing homes save people's lives.
      Can't Bridgmi find the money to hire people who can ask simple questions and report just the facts without putting a guilt trip on someone in their whipping boy group?

      Sat, 04/18/2020 - 11:54pm

      In some of these homes not showing up for work will get you fired . Same old thing you stay home no pay. People can only take so much and then many of them will snap. Keep denying that it is in your community until it is a friend neighbor or relative that dies. R.L.

      Sun, 04/19/2020 - 8:39am

      ONE IN THE KNOW Just keep asking. Test test test to have a better idea of the numbers. Trump doesn't want those numbers out. R.L.

      Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:14pm

      Michigan has also issued an executive order that gives these nursing homes legal immunity from civil suits.
      This is particularly horrifying, considering huge amounts of Michigan nursing homes CAUSED their seniors to get infected by *actively forbidding* their employees to wear PPE for a full 2 weeks after the WHO declaration of a global pandemic, even when those employees brought their own. Wear them, you got fired on the spot. Because of this, even though the nursing homes were locked down, asymptomatic employees spread COVID-19 to seniors. N95 masks are a major way of preventing that from ever happening. I know directly of one that did this in Plymouth, MI and 30% of the seniors are dead because of it. And there will now be no legal recourse for their families (or advocates). I know this makes exceptions for gross negligence, but I have to wonder what chances families have of proving that.