Michiganders who lost loved ones in nursing homes during COVID-19 pandemic demand answers

Families say system failed their loved ones

Michigan residents who lost loved ones in nursing homes during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic say the system failed them, and they’re demanding answers.

Michigan residents who lost loved ones in nursing homes during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic say the system failed them, and they’re demanding answers.

Nearly two weeks ago, the Department of Justice requested the state of Michigan hand over information about how it handled COVID-19 cases in nursing homes.

READ: Whitmer signs bill to cover $300 weekly unemployment bonus for Michiganders during pandemic

As the state gathers that information, families are voicing their frustrations with how the situation was handled.

According to the Department of Justice, Michigan’s orders might have resulted in thousands of deaths elderly people in nursing homes. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded to that statement by calling the request election-year politics.

But Michigan families are growing angrier as they struggle to get the answers they’re looking for.

“My biggest fear was that she would contract it,” said Anthony Messina, whose sister died of COVID-19.

Messina’s sister, Mary, came down with the virus inside the Macomb County nursing home where she was living, he said.

“Mary was always a fighter,” Messina said. “It’s pretty hard to fight something from a bed.”

“I haven’t got anything except a dead sister,” said Kathryne Maples.

Maples' sister, Sharon, died at just 65 years old. Maples said she has a lot of questions for hr sister’s Wayne County nursing home, including how Sharon could have contracted COVID-19.

Donna MacKenzie, an attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect, said since COVID-19, she has been contacted by multiple families concerned about their loved ones in the area.

“Mostly the families are complaining about the fact that they can’t get into the facility and they can’t see their loved one and then something will happen,” MacKenzie said.

Families are also frustrated that the nursing homes have immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19, she said.

“Immunity means that if the facility is negligent that they get a free pass, a get out of jail free card, we like to call it,” MacKenzie said.

At one point, Michigan ranked among the top 10 states for nursing home deaths. Whitmer revised her initial order in May and again this summer to steer more COVID-19 positive patients toward the 21 nursing homes now designated as regional hubs.

Still, many families said that is not enough, and now federal officials are asking questions, too.

“I feel in my heart that there is a chance my sister could have gotten better,” Messina said.

Michigan officials are expected to respond to the Department of Justice request by Wednesday.

The Department of Justice is also asking for nursing home information from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.