Nursing home visit restrictions may be eased soon


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — There is some hope that those who live in nursing homes will soon be able to have in-person visits again.

The Republican-led Michigan House Oversight Committee heard testimony Thursday about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s policies regarding nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some of those who testified were upset over visitor restrictions that prevented them from visiting their loved ones in long-term care.

Lori Milleville said she used to visit her husband Greg, 53, every day, but can’t because of the rules.

“We all know how important physical touch is. It’s so important from the minute we’re born, but Greg, my husband, has had no touch from anyone who loves him for nearly a year now,” she said. “That is a miserable, miserable way to live and it’s not OK. It feels cruel and it feels inhumane.”

Advocates for residents of long-term care facilities continue their call for restrictions to be eased.

David Herbel, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a group that represents more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers, says the organization has been urging the governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to ease restrictions and align them with federal guidance for months now.

Herbel said Michigan is unique because the visiting guidelines have been stricter than the federal guidance. He says aligning the regulations would cut out the confusing and conflicting information.

“Our whole initiative is to give the choice back to the elder,” Herbel said. “To say I’ve lived my life, I’ve experienced a lot of difficult circumstances, probably much more difficult than a decision on my risk tolerance relative to catching COVID. But let’s face it, as you approach the end of your life, there’s nothing more important than time with your family and friends.”

Whitmer seemed to indicate in a Wednesday press conference that changes may be on the way.

“We have seen Michigan move into a much stronger position. We are very concerned and we’ve taken action and followed the data,” she said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to announce additional aspects of reengagement on that front as soon as next week.”

Republicans have criticized Whitmer’s handling of nursing homes, arguing she should have designated facilities to house only COVID-19 patients. Instead, her administration created a plan that allowed them to be held in the same facilities with people who were not sick with isolation protocols in effect.

A representative from MDHHS did not appear at Thursday’s Senate hearing. However, in September, then-MDHHS Director Robert Gordon told legislators that creating COVID-19-only facilities was impractical and that the method was tried and then rejected by two states.

Of the about 15,400 Michigan residents who have died after contracting COVID-19, more than 5,500, or about 36%, were residents of long-term care facilities.

—News 8’s Brittany Flowers contributed to this report.

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