Michigan House approves plan to send frail prisoners to nursing homes

More than 100 frail prisoners would be released into Michigan's nursing homes annually under a bill passed by the state House on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Al Pscholka (R), is estimated to save the state's prisons as much as $5.4 million each year. Frail prisoners cost the state nearly three to five times more than healthy prisoners, according to the Associated Press.

Pscholka's bill would allow around 120 prisoners up for parole each year — roughly the same number that die in the state's prisons each year. That number is expected to rise as prisoners age and they require more complex healthcare, Pscholka said in a press release.

"A lot of them are bed-ridden. Some of them are taken advantage of or abused in prison, and this is just a better place for them to be," Pscholka told the AP.  Pscholka's plan may also include Medicaid coverage for the parolees, if federal officials approve.

Much of the state's senior inmate population, estimated to be near 9,000, were incarcerated during the 80's “tough on crime” era and don't pose a threat, Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, told the AP.

Melissa Samuel, vice president of government services for the Health Care Association of Michigan, disagreed, saying the group isn't comfortable with the legislation and continues to oppose it.

“We've always had concerns with this fundamentally,” Samuel told McKnight's. “The association feels that regardless of their health that these people should not be put into long-term care settings, specifically nursing facilities.”

Dedicated healthcare facilities for frail prisoners would be a better fit, Samuel said, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is “saying no” to their development by not providing Medicaid coverage.

Samuel said providers should ask pointed questions if the legislation becomes law.

“What are the conditions of their parole? Do any of these conditions conflict with how the nursing facility has to operate?” Samuel said. “You don't do this, or you proceed very very cautiously in moving forward in doing something like this.”

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.