LANSING, Mich. — While Michigan families and lawmakers await the results of an auditor general investigation on the state’s nursing home deaths, AARP thinks they have a way to fix some major issues with the senior care system, and a way to pay for it.
The audit is seeking to uncover the true number of deaths that took place in Michigan’s adult care homes. Licensed nursing homes were tracked, but self-reported, and only larger adult foster care homes and larger homes for the aged were required to report. It’s leading many lawmakers to believe the number of deaths is far higher than the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has recorded.
“I’m going to be careful not to make any guesses as to that, that’s why we’re doing the audit,” said Rep. Steve Johnson, R – Wayland, who chairs the House Oversight Committee and originally asked for the auditor general probe. “Hopefully, come October, we’ll know, we’ll have an accurate number.”
While the probe progresses, AARP of Michigan is identifying and crafting ways to combat some of the main issues that caused the state’s nursing home population to be so devastatingly affected by the pandemic.
According to a report issued by AARP Michigan Director of Advocacy Lisa Cooper, section 9817 of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act provides states with a 10% increase in federal medical assistance percentage in order to specifically “enhance, expand or strengthen” care in a home or community based setting. For Michigan, that increase equates to about $139 million in new, one-time funding.
“Most people want to get care in their home, in community-based settings,” said Cooper. “There have been obstacles to getting the capital that’s needed to start us some of these services.”
Because Medicaid isn’t as effective – or even an option many times – when paying for in home care, the costs to most families are often quite high. Cooper, and AARP’s recommendations, suggest using the one-time funding to help establish and sustain smaller ratios and in-home care options.
“Michigan’s long-term care system spends too much money on services that people don’t want,” said Cooper. “People who were in nursing home settings fared worse and in nursing home settings, the people who were in the most crowded settings in the rooms that had the most people, they fared even worse.”
“The barriers to start up for some of these models that make so much sense, are the barriers that we can use these funds to overcome,” she added.
She says despite most people telling AARP they prefer in-home care, most of Michigan’s tax dollars are spent on nursing homes. Likewise, Medicaid covers many costs associated with nursing homes, but not at-home and community-based care options.
Rep. Johnson said there is an appetite in Lansing for using federal dollars to fix some of the state’s nursing home issues, but doesn’t want to do anything until the audit is in.
“I think a lot of people are definitely open to using some of those funds to fix the nursing home issues but before we go down that road, I think we need the right facts before us,” he said. “Before we get to those policies, we need to make sure we know what happened first and then we’ll act from that.”
Cooper understands the sentiment, but wants the money used as soon as possible. It’s for the explicit purpose of curing some of Michigan’s nursing home issued, and disappears if not used by 2024.
“We don’t want this to happen again,” she said. “We’ve seen this now. We need to fix this for the future, so we don’t end up in a situation like this ever again.”