Death toll rises as Coronavirus sweeps through Michigan nursing homes

Coronavirus cases have swept through nursing homes across Michigan, putting the state’s most vulnerable at risk at a time when elderly residents are isolated from family under rules intended to keep them safe.

There have been hundreds of confirmed coronavirus cases among residents and staff and dozens of deaths linked to nursing homes in Michigan, the Free Press has found, even as facilities take steps to stem the spread and health officials work to monitor outbreaks.

In Wayne County — not including Detroit, which has its own health department — 35% of all of the county's confirmed COVID-19 deaths had been nursing home residents, based on a review of the state's disease surveillance system, a spokesman said Friday. And in Detroit, officials have said all of the city's nursing homes had reported confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

Just how rampant the coronavirus is at nursing homes across the state is difficult to discern. Michigan health officials have said they hadn't been actively tracking data on nursing home cases statewide.

A Free Press investigation, has identified a number of facilities in metro Detroit and across Michigan that have been impacted by coronavirus cases, including those in Livonia, Roseville, Riverview, Detroit, Mount Clemens, Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield, Harper Woods, Redford, Romulus, Wayne, Rochester Hills, Battle Creek, Lapeer, Kent County and Shiawassee County.

Despite outbreaks, local health departments in most instances would not provide the names of affected nursing homes. Some companies and facilities have declined to address how widespread the disease is in their nursing homes.

Local health departments in metro Detroit have reported hundreds of cases: 

  • The health department in Wayne County, which does not include cases in Detroit, found that 94 out of the county's 272 confirmed COVID-19 deaths as of Friday had been nursing home residents, based on the department's review of the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, county spokesman Bill Nowling said.  

  • Macomb County said Wednesday that there had been 203 confirmed coronavirus cases across 45 facilities, which includes nursing homes, long-term care, skilled nursing, memory and assisted living facilities, and 21 deaths.

  • In Oakland County, as of Thursday, 92 senior care facilities have had COVID-19 cases, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said. He said 254  people had tested positive and 24 deaths were reported across the senior facilities.

  • According to the Detroit Health Department, the city has 26 nursing homes and all had reported confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, a spokesman for the city said Saturday. The city said Friday there had been 191 cases, including 20 deaths. The city has launched an initiative to do widespread, quick testing of nursing home staff and on-site testing of patients.

Duggan on Thursday drove home the importance of widespread testing at nursing homes, announcing that 160 residents at facilities would be tested each day, to stop the spread. Oakland County is also working to identify more positive cases at nursing homes and recently ordered COVID-19 swab testing kits for symptomatic residents at facilities.

In Michigan, state officials said they are trying to improve the data they provide and began releasing statistics Thursday about those who have recovered from the coronavirus, when people were tested and hospital information. So far, though, no statewide information on nursing home cases has been available.

Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said information about respiratory outbreaks is reported on a weekly basis in a report published online but the system does not break out COVID-19 cases.

"We are reviewing this infrastructure to identify COVID-19 outbreaks," Sutfin said.

The reports could provide additional information on outbreaks at facilities, such as nursing homes and other senior care facilities, but require a manual review, she said. The timeline on when the data may be available remains unclear.

“There are limitations on the data we do have,” Sutfin said Thursday, adding “We are very concerned about COVID-19 in our state.”

This investigation was done by the Detroit Free Press.

Gina Kaufman, Christina Hall, Elisha Anderson, and Kristi Tanner, Detroit Free Press Updated 12:52 p.m. EDT Apr. 12, 2020

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