Gov. Whitmer vetoes COVID-19 nursing home bill; says based on 'false premise'

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation that would have let nursing homes house coronavirus-infected residents only in a separate building from where other residents live.

In a letter to senators, the Democratic governor said she had protected nursing home residents and the bill was "based on the false premise that isolation units created within existing facilities are somehow insufficient to protect seniors." The measure had attracted some Democratic support in the GOP-led Legislature.

It would have required the state health department, by Sept. 1, to ensure there is at least one dedicated facility for COVID-19 patients in each of eight regions to care for people ineligible for admission to a hospital, nursing home or adult foster care facility.

"The legislation fails to explain how such facilities would be staffed or paid for, or how frail residents would be protected during the potentially traumatic transfer from one facility to another," Whitmer wrote.

The bill was a response to the governor's order that lets people with the virus be transferred and isolated in certain "hub" nursing homes that also have non-infected residents. Republicans and other critics say the practice defies common sense and has led to infections among vulnerable, elderly residents -- though there is no direct evidence. The nursing home industry has blamed positive cases on the virus spreading within communities where the facilities are located.

Whitmer's office, in a news release, called community spread "the single-greatest threat to the residents of long-term care facilities." Republicans have noted that New York reversed a directive sending recovering coronavirus patients to vulnerable nursing homes.

"I am very disappointed and saddened that the governor vetoed this extremely important and commonsense legislation," said the sponsor, Sen. Peter Lucido, a Republican from Macomb County's Shelby Township. "Politics should not prevail over the health and safety of our seniors and health care workers, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate and House to consider passing a veto override."

More than 2,000, or 31%, of Michigan's coronavirus-related deaths are linked to nursing homes. A Whitmer-created task force is due to make recommendations by Aug. 31 on how to prepare nursing homes for any future wave of cases.

Meanwhile, the state reported eight additional COVID-19 deaths and 734 more confirmed cases overall. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases rose by 82, from 682 to 764, while deaths remained well below peaks from months ago.