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Macomb prosecutor to review virus deaths in nursing homes

State Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township photo
David Eggert
Associated Press

The prosecutor for Michigan’s third-largest county said Thursday he will investigate nursing home-related coronavirus deaths, saying there are questions about whether the transfer of recovering patients into facilities led residents and staff to be infected.

Macomb County’s Peter Lucido, a Republican who has criticized Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s nursing home policies in the pandemic, urged families with concerns about a relative’s “transfer, incident or death” to submit a form to local law enforcement. He said two reports had already been filed, in Warren and Shelby Township, before his news conference.

He also asked the county medical examiner to establish a team to review the deaths of elderly and vulnerable adults, as allowed under law.

Asked if the probe could result in criminal charges, Lucido said: “We’ll have to see where it leads us. Charges won’t be determined until there’s a full, extensive, fair, open and honest investigation of the case. ... There could be no charges.”

Republican lawmakers have called for investigations into why people with COVID-19 were placed in long-term care facilities, saying it led to infections — though there is no direct evidence.

Amid concerns about hospitals being overwhelmed with patients, Whitmer’s early orders required certain nursing homes to create a unit dedicated to the care of residents who tested positive for the virus, had symptoms or were potentially infected. They had to admit or readmit anyone they normally would have regardless of whether the individual had recently been discharged from a hospital treating COVID-19 patients. Nursing homes without a unit transferred people to regional “hub” nursing homes with higher levels of care.

Robert Gordon, the former director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, said last September that no home was forced to accept infected patients because the agency quickly heard concerns and did not implement the provision. Mark Totten, the governor’s chief legal counsel, wrote in response to a Justice Department inquiry that the policy complied with federal guidance and, regardless, never took effect.

The deaths of more than 5,600 residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been linked to COVID-19, about 35% of the state’s overall deaths. That is in line with the national rate.

In Macomb, more than 700 long-term care residents and staff have died, according to the state.

Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy accused Lucido of “shameful political attacks based in neither fact nor reality.” The administration’s policies, he said, tracked guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our top priority from the start has been protecting Michiganders, especially seniors and our most vulnerable,” he said.

Democratic state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has said it is reviewing GOP legislators’ request for an investigation. The Justice Department this month declined to comment on the status of its evaluation of whether to initiate investigations under a federal law that protects the rights of people in nursing homes and other facilities.

The law applies only to nursing homes owned or run by the states. Most nursing homes are privately owned.

Michigan Republican Party spokesman Ted Goodman said people “deserve to know the true impact” of the state’s orders.

But Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan, which represents more than 6,000 nursing home workers, accused Lucido of abusing his office and wasting taxpayer money.

“It really is disappointing that Republicans are using the insidiousness of a virus as political propaganda to sow misinformation and lies,” said president Andrea Acevedo.

Under a bipartisan law enacted in October, 18 nursing homes have been designated as “care and recovery centers” for people with COVID-19. They have a distinct area for them along with staff dedicated to their treatment.

A person hospitalized with COVID-19 cannot be discharged to a nursing home if he or she has fewer than 72 hours left in his or her isolation period, unless the hospital has reached its surge capacity. A nursing home not deemed a care and recovery center can still retain or admit infected residents if it has a state-approved designated area for them.

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