LeDuff: Michigan undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths

(The Center Square) – A report from Auditor General Doug Ringler scheduled for a Monday release is expected to show the state undercounted COVID-19 long-term care deaths.

On Wednesday, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff posted on Facebook:

“Covid Deaths in Michigan's long-term care facilities are 42% higher than the Whitmer Administration admits, according a preliminary report by state's Auditor General. This puts Whitmer's Michigan on par with Cuomo's New York in terms of concealing the truth about LTCFs. More to come.”

LeDuff sued the state's health department last May, alleging it undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths and other long-term care facilities (LTCF).

At issue is how many nursing deaths occurred in Michigan and whether Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies exacerbated nursing home deaths by housing infected patients with those most vulnerable to die from COVID-19. COVID-19 disproportionately kills the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. In Michigan, 84% of the state’s total COVID-19 victims were ages 60 and older.

Nursing homes have comprised the largest category of COVID-19 outbreaks statewide more most of the pandemic. State data counts 6,216 long-term care residents deaths statewide from COVID-19, with 93 staff members dying from the same cause.

In a previous interview with The Center Square, LeDuff compared the situation to New York, where former Gov. Andrew Cuomo suppressed the real number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

“New York kept count and lied about it. Michigan started looking into it, found a number they didn’t like, and they stopped counting,” LeDuff said. “Which is worse?"

Steve Delie, director of transparency and open government at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said it appears that the state hasn’t accurately tracked long-term care resident deaths.

“It is likely that the report will confirm what we have found through our own investigation,” Delie said in a statement to the The Center Square. “Namely, that the state failed to comprehensively and accurately measure the number of deaths among our most vulnerable populations. It’s a tragedy that more of our elderly residents have died than previously accounted for, and that Michiganders were not able to fully assess the true risks COVID-19 presented to them. We hope that the auditor general’s report will lead to accountability and ensure that we address pandemics differently in the future.”

House Oversight Committee Chair Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said he’s “eager” to review the report.

“This was important information to gather for those throughout our state who have loved ones and relatives in nursing homes and are scared, and sadly those who lost friends and family to COVID-19 while inside of a nursing home or other long-term care facilities,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Our committee will continue to look at why there was this discrepancy, as well as what changes are needed to ensure future reporting reflects precision instead of polling numbers. We have now seen the true scope of Gov. Whitmer’s disastrous policies, and we must ensure these tragic circumstances do not happen again.”

In July, the federal government declined to investigate Whitmer’s nursing home policies. The initial inquiry started under the Trump administration. In March, Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, refused Republicans’ request to investigate the same policy – calling it a “political attack.”

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