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Michiganders with disabilities worry about going without lifesaving equipment, treatment

Gov. Whitmer signs Executive Order addressing concerns

DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an Executive Order meant to ensure those with disabilities could get life-saving equipment during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic if hospitals have to ration supplies.

READ: Coronavirus in Michigan: A timeline of closures, event bans, stay-at-home orders

The order, 2020-64, is aimed at reducing the amount of discrimination that could happen under a medical rationing situation and also directs the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to create new protocol for rationing to be posted online for the public. MDHHS did not give a timeline for the new protocol.

“The main thing keeping me alive is being mechanically ventilated,” Travar Pettway said.

Pettway, 42, was shot in the neck when he was 17 severing his spinal cord just below his skull. His injury left him without the use of his arms or legs and he needs a ventilator to survive.

Michigan’s previous guidelines followed those set by the Centers for Disease Control which said if medical rationing occur it would be based on whether receiving critical equipment will actually extend a patient’s life, along with other bioethical and patient-wish based calculations.

However, those like Pettway who already have a shortened number of life years under the guidelines, could be left in limbo or worse -- without lifesaving equipment and treatment.

“Just the fact that there's potential for bias against people with disabilities or their condition is troubling,” Pettway said.

That potential is why 19 different disability groups and advocates wrote a letter to Whitmer, warning state guidelines could be discriminatory. Some of those advocates said while her last order is a positive step in protecting Michiganders with disabilities they want more -- including impact tracking, at home care carve outs and more straight forward assurances for those with disabilities.

“I wouldn’t call it discrimination from my point of view,” Pettway, who said he thinks the Gov. has been doing a good job, said. “I just think that many issues had to be brought to decision makers, to the forefront.”

According to Local 4’s Dr. Frank McGeorge, Michigan hospitals have not had to ration supplies in large amounts. According to state tracking data, hospitals have nearly 6,000 ventilators on hand with just under 2,400 available for use or roughly one ventilator for every four patients.

“MDHHS continues to actively monitor capacity/ventilators across the state and will issue orders or directives in accordance with this EO if it becomes necessary.” MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said.