State senate OKs virus relief bill; nursing home order questioned
LANSING (AP) — Michigan’s Legislature on Wednesday began authorizing the state to spend half a billion dollars of federal coronavirus relief funding, while majority Republicans voiced concern about the safety of nursing homes for residents who don’t have COVID-19.
The state, meanwhile, announced that 1.7 million people — a third of the workforce — have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced temporary layoff days for 31,000, nearly two-thirds, of state workers.
State law enforcement leaders pledged a stepped-up presence and to make arrests if there’s any unlawful, threatening or intimidating behavior by demonstrators who join a Thursday protest at the Capitol against the governor’s stay-at-home order. The Senate had planned to be in session but now won’t return until next week.
At issue is the Democratic governor’s month-old executive order that lays out rules for the admission or readmission of residents who have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. At least 687 Michigan nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 complications, nearly 15% of the state’s 4,714 reported deaths. A top state health official, citing data issues, said the number is probably higher.
Robert Gordon, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee that if regular nursing homes can’t safely isolate and care for virus-infected residents, they should be placed at regional “hub” nursing homes that can provide higher levels of care and contain exposure. More than 290 nursing home residents are at 21 such facilities, with nearly 400 beds open.
Sen. Lana Theis, a Brighton Republican, expressed concerns about residents who don’t have COVID-19 and questioned if they’re adequately protected.
“This doesn’t seem like the safest scenario for the seniors that are already in the home,” she said. “What we should be doing is looking at a safer alternative than putting COVID-positive patients in the same building with the most vulnerable among our population.”
If it’s not possible to transfer patients to the regional hubs, they must be segregated in COVID-19 units, Gordon said.
“This is a world without perfect solutions,” he said.
Homes without protective equipment or isolation units aren’t required to accept infected residents who’ve been released from the hospital, he said.
Kate Massey, senior deputy director for the state’s Medical Services Administration, said involuntary transfers can result in psychological damage, cognitive decline and negative outcomes.
The $524 million budget bill includes a $3 an hour pay raise for direct care workers at nursing homes and other facilities, and up to $1,000 in bonus pay for local law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics. There’s money to reduce child care costs for essential workers and to provide testing supplies and personal protective equipment for nursing, home health and day care providers.
The legislation sent to the House also would fund additional employees at the deluged Unemployment Insurance Agency and help schools pay for distance learning, summer education and assessments.
Whitmer announced furloughs for 31,000 of 48,000 state workers through late July. The state will participate in a federal “work share” program, allowing thousands of employees to work one less day a week but collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of their lost wages.
Higher-level managers won’t participate, but will take one layoff day every other two-week pay period — a 5% pay cut. The move will save the state $80 million.
The layoffs won’t affect state troopers, prison guards and others working on the front lines.
The Unemployment Insurance Agency said benefits had been paid to nearly 1.4 million of the 1.7 million people who applied through last week. About 92% of eligible claimants received money or were approved to get benefits. About 66,000 were deemed ineligible. Another 134,000 require additional review.