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Senate: Send patients to new facilities, not nursing homes

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan would have to create dedicated facilities for coronavirus-infected patients who are not sick enough to be hospitalized or placed in nursing homes under Senate-passed legislation billed as an alternative to a state policy that has come under criticism from lawmakers.

The Republican-sponsored measure, approved 24-13 Wednesday and sent to the GOP-led House, is a response to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order that lets people with the COVID-19 virus be transferred and isolated in nursing homes that also have non-infected residents. Critics worry the practice has led to infections among vulnerable, elderly residents — though there is no direct evidence.

Senators said they want to ensure that non-residents of nursing homes who test positive but are medically stable are treated in facilities designated solely for coronavirus patients — not nursing homes — starting Sept. 15. The bill would still let nursing homes admit or retain infected residents if they provide state-approved designated areas with adequate staffing and personal protective equipment.

“We want to save lives,” said the sponsor, Republican Sen. Peter Lucido of Macomb County’s Shelby Township. He said the current policy “has failed” and criticized the administration for rejecting the nursing home industry’s early suggestion, in March, to use empty facilities as quarantine centers.

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services has defended its decision to turn 21 nursing homes into regional “hubs” to care for coronavirus patients in isolated wings at a time some hospitals were at capacity. It has cited limitations with federal field hospitals in the Detroit area and the timely process of creating new facilities.

The hub homes were given $5,000 per virus patient to help with costs. “They sweetened the deal,” Lucido said.

Many Democrats voted against the legislation. Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing said it’s important to review the policy to make sure “outside people aren’t being moved into nursing homes,” but “I cannot vote for a bill that violates an individual’s basic civil rights.” Democrats unsuccessfully tried amending the bill to require a doctor’s written permission to transfer someone to one of the dedicated facilities, to ensure notice is given to the individual and his or her family and to establish an appeals process.

A Whitmer spokeswoman said the office was reviewing the legislation.

More than 2,000, or about 35%, of Michigan’s coronavirus-related deaths are linked to nursing homes.

Meanwhile, the state health department reported 323 new cases statewide Wednesday, the highest daily figure in June, and four deaths.

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