AARP: To guard Michigan seniors from coronavirus, avoid nursing homes

Health disparities and longstanding policy made Michigan’s seniors more susceptible to coronavirus, according to a new report by AART and Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

Shifting public funds from nursing homes to home- and community-based care services will do more than offer Michigan’s seniors independence. It may protect them against COVID-19.

It’s one of the conclusions in a new report on inequalities facing Michigan residents over 50, written by AARP Michigan and Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing-based policy research firm.

For the 23-page report, “Disrupt Disparities 2.0.,” authors compiled data and research from multiple sources to build a case that long-term economic, social and racial inequalities disproportionately exposed Michigan’s seniors, especially minorities, to COVID-19 as it swept through the state.

Many of those inequities are rooted in long-standing policy, said Paula  Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan.

For example, Michigan spends just 40 percent of its budget for long-term support and services on services that are home- and community-based — the kinds of services that allow people to remain outside of nursing homes. That compares to a national average of 57 percent, and it’s among the lowest percentages in the country, according to a 2018 Medicaid report.

“They want to age in place, and yet our state spends more money to send people to nursing homes than it would cost to have them stay in their own home, with the proper support,” Cunningham said.

The state listed 2,010 residents of nursing homes as “COVID deaths” as of Thursday — about 1 in 3 of the state’s 5,887 deaths, according to state data.

Health disparities helped make many of Michigan’s seniors more vulnerable — including lack of access to good nutrition and healthcare among the state’s poor residents.

Politics has no place in protecting Michigan’s seniors, said Paula Cunningham, director of AARP Michigan.

The report listed several solutions that authors said would allow Michigan’s seniors to age in place, save on medical costs, and draw $335 million in untapped federal funds. Among the recommendations: 

  • Increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Just one-half of the state’s eligible seniors use those funds now, Cunningham said. Allowing online SNAP purchases also would increase access to healthy foods.

  • Expand high-speed Internet access and train seniors on the use of broad-band technology to allow access to telehealth services.

  • Allow nurses licensed elsewhere, but not in MIchigan, to practice in Michigan telehealth services through the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact.

These steps and others are “achievable” despite politics that can get in the way, Cunningham said: “It's a no brainer in my mind… This saves lives and helps people to do what they want, which is to age in place.”

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Whitmer's Orders
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 9:00am

Not one mention that over 2,000 seniors died in Michigan's nursing homes as a direct result of Governor Whitmer's orders to put sick people into places that housed the most vulnerable population.

She continually touts how she has supposedly "saved lives", but you never hear her talk about the people who died as a DIRECT result of her orders.

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 2:26pm

How many more than other states?

Gretchen Great
Sat, 06/27/2020 - 12:24am

The same as other states. No news here folks.

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 11:49pm

Does she recognize the mistake, has she learned the following and not leading has risks for others, did any of those she has selected to adviser raise concerns when the idea was being discussed [was it discussed] and if not has she try to findout why and how to change that so a wider range of ideas are considered when such a significant decision is being made?

This is a much more important point in the development of our Governor than simply she did what others were doing, we need more in times of crisis that a Governor that goes along, we need leadership the challenge the conventional thinking and asks the more challenging questions. The Covid 19 pandemic has been a test for Governor Whitmer and it has shown us her having any leadership traits, any crisis management skills, any insightful staffing selection skills. It has left the impression she is an effective campaigner but not an exceptional leader or even a mediocre Governor.

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 12:05pm

I agree she never owes up to her mistakes, always laying blame elsewhere like the Government or Trump. She knew they didn't have adequate isolation space and she kept she didn't have the finances to support them, but as usual she blames everyone but herself. She needs to go , recall is in order.

GOP Where are you?
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 2:27pm

What laws, funding can we propose to protect seniors in nursing homes? Should we just leave this mess for the private sector to fix?

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 11:57pm

This is not a problem for laws to address. What we need is a resource of knowledge in the risks and management of the health of people advancing in years. It would make more sense to have the State or private endowments to fund a 'Chair' at one of our state medical schools that would be a focal point of collection and decimation of managing health risks both in facilities that have higher then average concentrations of mature people with added health risks, or of mature individuals with added health conditions that could exacerbate the individuals health risks. We do need rules when some new happens, we need a resource to turn to for understanding and support.

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 8:46am

Most nursing homes are own by doctors who WAY under pay their workers!!!!
And use UN certified people!!!

Sat, 06/27/2020 - 11:09am

If Trump has his way and repeals the ACA 720,000 Michiganders would lose coverage.
The 51 percent of Michiganders with a pre-existing condition would once again be vulnerable to the whims and price gouging of insurance companies.
Insurers could collect your premiums and then kick you off your coverage if you get sick.
Young people can no longer stay on their health insurance until 26 years old.

George Hagenauer
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 10:10am

The most interesting aspect of the article is that we could be using mainly federal money to support strategies to improve conditions for the state's seniors. And anyone who think especially the for profit private sector will solve this problem misses the whole reality of the economics of the long term care industry. We should be figuring out how to capitalize easier non-profit solutions in Nursing home care. I would also look at a solution to the needs of elderly Covid 19 patients that might be able to be integrated into any existing hospice system.

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 11:59am

Why is it only Democratic States that had the highest deaths in homes for the elderly? Why did Whitmer take the patients when she knew they didn't have adequate isolation area for them , that was her own statement? Why does she always blame others for her mistakes? She's blaming it on the Government, that's wrong she knew what her financial situation was she knew they didn't have adequate space, but yet she took them anyway. She needs to own up to her own mistakes, and stop blaming others for her actions. Every time something goes wrong she blames Trump, it's ridiculous she can't do her job properly or own up to her own short comings. She's not Government material, she's not a team player, she wouldn't even work with the legislatures when they tried to help. She's got an attitude the size of mounteverest, not a team player, and doesn't even have respect for the people that voted her in. She treated us like children and barked orders instead of talking to us as adults , and barked orders instead of asking us to work with her. She's more like a dictator than a governor, she needs to be recalled immediately., we need someone that can work with the people and other government officials without the you'll do as I say.