Michigan nursing home COVID deaths underreported by 30% under Whitmer

Whitmer has been under fire for nursing home deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Updated: January 17, 2022 - 10:04pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) underreported the number of people who died from COVID-19 in long-term care facilities by 30%, according to a report from the state's auditor general.

The report identified 8,061 COVID-linked deaths in long-term care (LTC) facilities, up from the 5,675​ previously self-reported LTC deaths as of July 2, 2021.

The spread between the two figures is actually 42%, but the auditor’s report spent several pages explaining why the state’s responsibility for undercounting was 30%.

The report comes in response to a request from Republican state Rep. Steven Johnson. It will likely become a point of contention during Gov. Whitmer's 2022 reelection campaign. 

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel defended her department's reporting of COVID deaths, calling data in the report "misleading." While the report states that the state DHHS underreported by nearly 30%, she said nearly half of the difference comes from the facilities incorrectly reporting. 

The report states that the state health department's official count and the auditor general's findings are 29.6% The MDHHS disputed 1,511, or 63%, of the auditor's newly added deaths, stating that the data was not reliable.   

Hertel wrote to Auditor General Doug Ringler that "we do not believe you have done a 'proper accounting of all long-term care facility deaths' as your letter suggests."

Whitmer has been under fire for nursing home deaths since the beginning of the pandemic when she directed facilities to accept COVID-positive residents.

Johnson told local outlet 7 Action News: "These are long-term care facilities that were required under Gov. Whitmer's policies to accept COVID positive patients, and because of that, our most vulnerable residents were put at risk. That's something that never should have happened and there needs to be accountability on this."

Michigan Freedom Fund responded to the report as well, stating: "Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to import COVID-19 into nursing homes and long-term care facilities was unscientific, and it was deadly."

The conservative group wrote that "the Whitmer administration has repeatedly hidden data, redacted critical public records, and refused to release key information about the governor’s decision-making process. Families who lost loved ones in these facilities needed a governor fighting to protect them, not put them at greater risk. There must be a thorough investigation into Whitmer’s failure to protect Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens."