Michigan House Oversight Committee investigates governor’s COVID-19 nursing home policies

By Bruce Walker | The Center Square Feb 25, 2021

(The Center Square) – The Michigan House Oversight Committee convened Thursday morning to discuss the long-term care facility policies instituted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former legislators, facility directors, and family members of long-term care residents provided testimony to the committee.

Each offered details related to the state’s policies, which all agreed failed long-term care residents and their family members uninfected by the COVID-19 virus.

“Right now in Michigan we actually have the 14th highest COVID-19 nursing home deaths per 100 residents in the nation,” Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, chair of the Oversight Committee, said in his opening comments.

Johnson added the committee had requested testimony from the governor’s administration, but was declined. Johnson quoted from a letter the committee received in which the administration claimed it was collecting the “best data out there,” but failed to share any of its data.

“I’m just a simple guy, but in my mind if you had the best data out there, wouldn’t you share it with people?” Johnson asked. “That seems to be a pretty commonsense solution here.”

Michigan reported a total of 15,405 COVID-19 related deaths between March 2020 and Feb. 24, 2021. More than one-third of those deaths, 5,500, occurred in long-term care facilities, Johnson said.

The Oversight Committee hearing follows one day after Michigan Senate Republicans sent letters to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the U.S. Department of Justice, issuing formal complaints and requesting an investigation into state policies that they claim inadvertently led to a disproportionate number of deaths in long-term care facilities.

In his letter to Nessel, Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, referenced a Department of Justice request last August in which the department sought data from Whitmer and three other governors “who issued orders that may have resulted in the deaths of elderly nursing home residents.”

Runestad and seven other Republican state senators asked the attorney general and the Department of Justice to review the governor’s processes and policies that may have spread the virus in the state’s nursing homes; investigate the accuracy of data reported by the governor’s administration; and look into whether the state complied with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and reporting requirements as well as Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

“Gov. Whitmer’s regional hub policy placed patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities and may have exacerbated the death toll in those facilities,” the senators wrote. “Executive Order 50 of 2020 required long-term care facilities with dedicated units to accept admission of residents who had tested positive for the virus regardless of whether those residents may have still been contagious.”

The letter continued to cite reporting failures, which led to a lack of accurate data on the number of long-term care residents harmed by the governor’s policies.

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