Michigan deserves better from the governor

Here is a column I wrote that was printed earlier this month in local newspapers, including the Midland Daily News and the Alpena News: The COVID-19 outbreak has had an enormous impact on our state, but it was made even worse by several major mistakes by the governor.

Gov. Whitmer failed to anticipate the impact of her stay-at-home order on the livelihoods of Michigan families and then failed to ensure the people who lost their jobs due to her order received critical unemployment assistance. She also failed to protect our most vulnerable residents from the virus, with deadly consequences.

Due to the governor’s orders, over two million Michigan workers have lost their jobs and our unemployment rate spiked to 24% in April — the second-highest rate in the country.

Unbelievably, the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) couldn’t handle the increase in claims and the governor failed to fix it.

I continue to hear from frustrated unemployed workers who have yet to receive any support payments and are worried about how they’re going to pay the bills and feed their families.

It was a failure of the governor to listen to others about the full impact of her actions, understand the size of the problem at the UIA, and make the quick and decisive action to fix it. As a result, thousands of families are still struggling to make ends meet.

Thankfully, the governor signed my legislation to immediately hire 500 temporary UIA employees to help our unemployed workers.

Unfortunately, the governor’s decision to put COVID-19 patients in our nursing homes was far more serious.

When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., one of the few things we knew about it was that it was much more dangerous for the elderly. As a result, the national Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance in mid-March about how to control COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes are not hospitals, and they’re certainly not an appropriate place to house patients with COVID-19 unless they have a confirmed plan to isolate those patients from the other residents. However, Gov. Whitmer on April 15 issued an executive order requiring certain nursing homes to care for COVID-19-affected patients — despite the risks.

When the state finally released nursing facilities’ COVID-19 data on June 15, we learned what a disaster her policy had been.

At that point, over 1,900 deaths from COVID-19 had occurred in nursing homes — more than a third of all Michigan deaths from the virus. This figure could be even higher because Michigan’s data doesn’t include other long-term care facilities and assisted living centers.

To prevent this tragedy from happening again, I supported Senate Bill 956 to ban the admission and retention of COVID-19 patients in nursing home facilities, unless it has a state-approved designated area and program to isolate and care for the patient.

The governor has failed to preserve our economy, support unemployed workers, and protect our most vulnerable residents. We all deserve better.