GUEST COLUMN: Whitmer needs to take responsibility for nursing home policies

State Rep. Bob Bezotte

By State Rep. Robert Bezotte

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has repeatedly cited science and data as the motivation behind her cruel nursing home and assisted living facility policies. Yet, when the numbers began indicating just how brutally her policies were failing elderly and infirm populations, she turned a blind eye to the effects of her restrictions.

Gov. Whitmer’s policies created a mental health crisis for those living in nursing homes, who were cut-off from hugging their own spouses and family members for months at a time. While staff members could come and go as they pleased, with no restrictions placed on their activities outside of working hours, families were forced to interact with their loved ones through video calls or wave hello from outside the nearest window.

Depression is a symptom of loneliness for many elderly people who have been locked inside nursing homes, and Whitmer has ignored their cries for help. No group has been more continuously overlooked than the elderly and they need advocates now more than ever.

Through these decisions, Whitmer aligned herself with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who callously allowed COVID-positive patients into nursing homes. New York’s strategy resembles Michigan’s own hub policy, championed by Whitmer, but the similarities do not end there – Cuomo deceived New York residents by hiding the number of nursing home deaths, and Whitmer has refused to provide data answering the same question.

Two weeks ago, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) failed to appear before the House Oversight Committee to testify on that very issue. If they truly had nothing to hide, they would have come before state lawmakers to share their facts and figures. Had they joined the hearing, they would have heard heart-wrenching testimony from family and facility employees alike that would have surely made them think twice about their merciless rulings.

Not only have the governor and health department kept data from us, but they have blurred any existing ethical boundaries. Whitmer recently paid $155,000 in hush money to former MDHHS director Robert Gordon received $155,000 as part of a separation agreement, one that included a gag order. This action demands a more thoughtful answer than the one she has been repeating, saying it is “common practice” to pay off employees for their silence.

Michiganders have a reasonable expectation that lawmakers will use their hard-earned tax dollars responsibly in conventional times. In a pandemic, when there are many people far more deserving of extra aid to stay afloat than a former health director making a six-figure salary, that should ring even more true.

The governor may not agree with me, but one thing I am certain of is that it should never be routine for government officials to secretly pay off state workers with taxpayer money.

In light of Gordon’s payout, and because he was responsible for making high-level decisions about COVID-related nursing home policies, Whitmer must stop running from difficult questions and face the truth. At best this is corruption, and at worst a criminal act worthy of prosecution. Simply put, the people of Michigan deserve answers, and we cannot afford to wait for them any longer.

With Gov. Cuomo facing a day of reckoning in New York for his fatal and failed policies, it is time for Whitmer to accept her own right here in Michigan.

State Rep. Bob Bezotte, R-Marion Township, represents Michigan’s 47th state House District, which includes the City of Howell; the Village of Fowlerville; part of the City of Fenton; and the townships of Conway, Cohoctah, Deerfield, Hartland, Handy, Iosco, Unadilla, Oceola, Marion and Tyrone.

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