Conditions at Nursing Homes Leading to Rapid Increase in COVID-19 Cases

As two more nursing homes announce COVID-19 cases, leaders call on Governor Whitmer to order unannounced inspections to enforce safety standards

As new COVID-19 cases are announced at two more nursing homes in Metro Detroit, SEIU leaders are requesting an investigation from Governor Whitmer to enforce standards in nursing homes which protect patients and workers.

Advantage Living Center Northwest and Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center are reporting  presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Advantage workers are reporting more than a dozen presumed cases which include ten residents and multiple workers. According to workers at Advantage, five residents have passed away in the last two weeks after experiencing symptoms such as high fever and shortness of breath; two of those residents were taken to the hospital and eventually passed away. Up to 45 nursing home residents have been isolated in the home to prevent further infection. Advantage has not officially reported if any residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

Additionally, Ambassador nursing home workers are reporting up to three workers and one resident who have tested positive. It is unknown how many additional people have been exposed at either site.

On March 22nd, Heartland Health Care Center in Livonia was the first nursing home in MIchigan to have a resident test positive for COVID-19. Last week at Advantage Living Center in Roseville, more than 20 patients who were positive or suspected positive for the COVID-19 are in isolation.

“These new cases present an alarming trend right now in nursing homes,” said Andrea Acevedo, President of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, “Even worse, there is almost no accountability from most nursing home owners during this time of crisis. Many nursing home operators are failing to meet the most basic safety standards, and as a result they are putting the lives of our workers and residents at severe risk.”

On March 16th, SEIU Healthcare Michigan sent a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to all 66 nursing homes they represent in Metro Detroit, outlining a series of actions that nursing homes needed to take to protect their workers. These actions included paid sick leave for workers exposed to COVID-19, free testing to all employees for COVID-19, proper protective gear for employees, and no retaliation for workers who reported potential COVID-19 exposure to their employers. On March 23rd, SEIU added bonus pay for workers and financial assistance for childcare to it’s list.

“Nursing homes are choosing to ignore the most basic safety standards, including not supplying personal protective equipment, and mandating that workers report back to work even if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19” said Acevedo, “This is an industry-wide problem, and we feel it’s time for the Governor to step in and demand industry-wide safety standards in nursing homes.”

Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is one of 16 homes owned and operated by Villa Healthcare, a Skokie Illinois-based private for-profit nursing home chain, in Michigan. Villa has refused to provide for any COVID-19 testing and medical care for workers, and has rejected paid leave for staff who may come in contact with COVID-19.

“I worked in close contact with a nurse who I was told tested positive for COVID-19,” said Theresa Rincher, a certified nursing assistant and restorative aid at Ambassador for three years, “They told me to report to work as usual, but I am considering a self-quarantine. I live with family members with health issues, and now I am now scared for their lives as well as the lives of my residents.”

“Ambassador managers are not telling us anything about who has tested positive or may have been exposed to COVID-19, but nurses are spreading the knowledge to their coworkers,”  said Tamara Blue, a worker at Ambassador, “I have decided to self-quarantine myself because I’m athsmatic and it’s not worth the risk to me.”

As recent as March 20th, workers at Ambassador had reported that management initially instructed employees to not use protective masks while in the facility.

“A woman from the corporate office showed up and told us that we would not be provided with any masks,” said Mary McClendon, a certified nursing assistant at Ambassador, “She told us that if we wanted masks, we would need to buy them ourselves. That isn’t right.

SEIU Healthcare Michigan delivered a shipment of protective equipment on Friday to the facility to help shore up limited supplies.

“We are hearing outcries across the state from our nursing home workers, and we cannot wait any longer to take action to protect all workers in Michigan,” said Acevedo, “We hope the Governor takes our concerns seriously. If we act quickly, we have the potential to save thousands of lives in Michigan.”

SEIU is asking healthcare workers to contact them with any safety issues related to COVID-19 at workersafety@seiuhealthcaremi.org.

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