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New answers about which nursing homes have been most severely impacted by COVID-19 came Friday when Michigan officials released cumulative case data on facilities that house the state’s most vulnerable population.

But the accuracy of some of the numbers has been called into question by previous Free Press reporting. After the state’s release, some said they don’t trust the counts. 

The data released Friday shows nursing homes statewide have had about 5,000 coronavirus cases among residents with about 90% of the facilities reporting. Three homes in metro Detroit have had more than 100 cases and another five reported more than 80 cases, according to the state’s data.

Friday was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the state has provided cumulative coronavirus cases broken down by nursing home. No death data was provided online Friday, but officials previously said more than 1,200 nursing homes residents have died.

According to the state’s data, nursing homes reporting the highest total number of cases among residents include:

  • Westland Convalescent & Rehab Center (Westland, a Villa Center) in Westland with 127 cases.
  • Autumn Woods Residential Health in Warren with 111 cases.
  • Fairlane Senior Care and Rehab Center in Detroit with 101 cases.

The Free Press left messages Friday with the facilities that had the highest number of cumulative cases and did not hear back from two of them.

Westland, a Villa Center had zero COVID-positive residents in-house as of Friday, according to a statement from Villa Healthcare. It said that 66 residents have recovered from COVID-19, and six residents have died.

Ambassador, a Villa Center in Detroit didn’t have any data listed on the state’s website, indicating it hasn’t reported. Detroit’s website, though, shows the facility with 107 resident cases. Nursing home officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The accuracy of some of the numbers posted on the state’s website was in question Friday evening. The Free Press quickly uncovered discrepancies in some of the numbers posted and numbers previously reported by the newspaper.

For instance, on April 9, the Free Press reported 21 Rivergate Terrace residents had tested positive for COVID-19, citing information provided by the facility in Riverview. About two weeks ago, the Free Press reported 93 residents had tested positive in total at that facility. 

However, the state’s website showed Friday just 18 Rivergate Terrace residents had tested positive since the start of the outbreak.

“We will follow up with the facility to determine the accuracy of the data,” state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in an email when asked about the number.

The number of active cases at Rivergate Terrace, a Life Care Centers of America facility, has dropped in recent weeks and there are now six positive cases, said Timothy Killian, a public information liaison.

Heidi Sisler, 55, of Southgate said she doesn’t believe the state released accurate numbers given what she’s heard previously. Her mother-in-law, Lucille Kania, 88, is a resident at Rivergate Terrace and was diagnosed with the virus earlier this year, she said.

“I have zero confidence in Michigan’s government over this COVID-19,” Sisler said. “None.”

The latest data provided by the state did not include the number of nursing home staff infected with the virus or how many residents live at each home. 

There have been at least 1,216 coronavirus-related deaths of nursing home residents in Michigan — about 23% of all deaths in the state, according to preliminary data released by the state earlier this week. No facility information has been provided about where those deaths occurred and the number is expected to grow as more facilities report to the state.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said the state’s data reporting systems for public health have not kept up with what is needed to fight the pandemic and give people information as quickly as officials should. 

Officials still have work to do on death information associated with nursing homes before making it public, Khaldun said during a Friday afternoon news conference.

“What I don’t want to do is put up data that’s not accurate,” Khaldun said, adding there is some conflicting information they need to sort through. 

People, including those with loved ones in nursing homes, have sought comprehensive statewide information on COVID-19 in the facilities for months. Michigan confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 10 — more than 11 weeks ago.

Whitmer:  Nursing homes must have dedicated units before coronavirus patients return

More: State releases nursing home COVID-19 death count; numbers expected to grow

More: When it comes to nursing home deaths, state data tells only part of the story

Earlier this week during a state Senate oversight committee hearing, a lawmaker asked why other states have been able to release detailed nursing home data before Michigan.

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon said staff is thinly stretched and the state has an outdated data reporting system, contributing to the state’s slow response providing the information.

“My suspicion is that there are states that have been able to automate reporting through their own disease surveillance systems,” Gordon said during the hearing. “That is just not something that we were in position to do.”  

What we knew

Previous data released by the state gave one-day snapshots at nursing homes. It provided the current number of coronavirus cases among residents at nursing facilities but lacked the cumulative number of residents at each facility who contracted the virus, how many residents have recovered and the number of those who have died.

Because of the lack of statewide data, including where deaths have occurred, the true toll of the virus on nursing home residents still remains unknown.

Some local health departments have provided more specific numbers. Detroit began releasing detailed data on the city’s 26 nursing homes more than a month ago after conducting extensive testing at all of the facilities.

Many other states have provided cumulative case and death data associated with nursing homes.

“We applaud the Governor’s decision to release cumulative data on COVID cases in nursing homes,” said Andrea Acevedo, president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan. “Up until this point, it has been difficult to draw conclusions based on information publicly available. Comparing case totals with testimony from our workers in homes helps us make decisions and hold employers accountable for issues such as available (personal protective equipment), hazard pay, and infection control in nursing homes.”

Discharged

Some Republican and Democratic legislators in Michigan have criticized the decision to house COVID-19 positive residents in the same nursing homes as non-infected people, even if they are separated. The move creates an unsafe situation for seniors, they argued.

Some of the concerns expressed include limited staff at nursing homes, which can lead to employees working with infected and non-infected residents, poor infection control histories at some facilities and limited personal protective equipment. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was questioned about why there hasn’t been a ban on COVID-19 patients in nursing homes Thursday and said officials wanted to make sure patients discharged from hospitals had a place to go.

“We’ve had to strike a balance here,” Whitmer said, adding “as we continue to learn, we continue to improve.”

Her latest executive order on long-term care facilities mandates that nursing homes make all reasonable efforts to create units dedicated to residents with the coronavirus and provide appropriate personal protective equipment to staff working in the units.

Khaldun said Thursday that steps have been taken to protect residents and there’s more to come.

“We still have to do more work to get this right, to make sure that our nursing home residents have some place safe to go,” she said. “And we continue to work on that.”

Do you work in a nursing home or senior center affected by the coronavirus? Have you or your family personally been affected? We’d like to talk to you. Please contact Chris Hall at chall@freepress.com or send encrypted email to chall99@protonmail.com. 

Contact Elisha Anderson: eanderson@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @elishaanderson

Contact Kristi Tanner: ktanner@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MIdatalove

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