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Doctor backs bill to stop housing COVID-19 patients with nursing homes residents

A woman in a wheel chair traveling down a nursing home corridor.

(The Center Square) – A medical doctor on Wednesday testified in favor of a bill that seeks to prohibit admission of COVID-19 patients into nursing homes unless that person recovered or the facility can provide proper care, challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s current policy.

The Senate passed the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby, on June 24.

Lucido wants to place COVID-19 positive patients in separate nursing homes so they don’t infect vulnerable nursing home residents.

Lucido said nursing home workers had to reuse personal protective equipment in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He contends that many nursing home deaths were caused by COVID-19 patients being transferred into nursing homes.

Rebecca Copf, M.D., testified in favor of the bill Wednesday morning, saying that nursing home residents already have compromised immune systems and are prone to infections.

“Even with the new guidelines, sufficient personal protective equipment, and training, it would be very difficult to avoid cross-contamination [from staff] because of the frequent assistance required of these patients,” Copf said.

The best practice would be to separate COVID-19 patients from elderly residents completely, the doctor said.

“There is a slight risk that a health care worker transmits the virus unknowingly,” Copf said. “But by forcing them to work with known infected COVID patients, we increase that risk.”

Nursing homes weren’t created to house people infected with highly contagious viruses that can spread through ventilation systems and stick to gowns, caps and gloves, Copf said.

“The best and most obvious change to protect the most vulnerable seniors is to stop placing contagious COVID-positive patients with them, and thus avoid the risk of contamination,” Copf said.

Copf pointed out this was the reason why family and friends weren’t allowed to visit nursing home patients.

About 2,017 Michigan nursing home residents died of COVID-19, along with 21 staff members, as of July 13.

Those resident deaths make up one-third of the state’s total 6,081 coronavirus fatalities, but the percentage doesn’t count all long-term-care deaths.

The state hasn’t released the number of deaths in facilities such as homes for the aged, adult foster care facilities, and assisted living facilities.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) previously told The Center Square they declined housing COVID-19 patients in field hospitals designed for short-term care, not for vulnerable citizens who need handrails to walk and advanced medical equipment.

COVID-19 regional hubs are staffed for COVID-19 patients, MDHHS said, and are vetted for their performance history.

Whitmer in June created a Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force to analyze nursing home data and make recommendations by Aug. 31, 2020.

LeadingAge Michigan, which represents the state’s nonprofit skilled nursing facilities, recommended lawmakers delay passing legislation until the task force releases its results.

The virus killing nursing home residents isn’t isolated to the Michigan.

The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity estimated that nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for about 45 percent of the COVID-19 deaths across the nation.

The coronavirus has disproportionately harmed older people. In Michigan, 87 percent of those killed by COVID-19 were 60 years of age or older.

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