Michigan’s top government oversight official is investigating the number of residents who died from COVID-19 in nursing homes as a result of a controversial public health policy mandated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D.).
Michigan auditor general Doug Ringler announced the audit last week following legislative hearings that questioned the accuracy of state data on COVID-related deaths in long-term care facilities. Republicans have argued Whitmer’s administration undercounted deaths after the governor allowed COVID-infected seniors to return to nursing homes for treatment. The state health director has disputed those claims, saying the data are “self-reported” by facilities.
Whitmer, who was reportedly considered for Joe Biden’s running mate during the 2020 campaign, has come under fire before for her COVID-related public health policies. Shortly after lockdowns began in April 2020, the Michigan governor was criticized by a bipartisan coalition for her seemingly arbitrary and overly restrictive stay-at-home order. The measure permitted marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores to remain open but closed businesses selling hardware and gardening supplies.
Whitmer also blocked state Republicans in July 2020 from passing a bill that would have prevented COVID-infected seniors from being treated in nursing homes.
State representative Steve Johnson (R.), who requested the audit following the June hearings, said Wednesday he was “confident” the audit would resolve the dispute over the data and show the that governor’s mandate is responsible for more COVID deaths.
“I am confident that the auditor general will provide us with a more accurate picture of the deadly results of Gov. Whitmer’s decision to place COVID positive patients in long-term care facilities,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Oversight Committee.
Michigan health director Elizabeth Hertel testified before the committee in June that data on the state’s COVID deaths were accurate.
“The number that is being reported is accurate,” Hertel said. “Because the number we have reported on our website is self-reported from the nursing homes.”
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services reported in June that 34 percent of all COVID deaths in the state have been linked to nursing homes.