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Pending report on Michigan nursing home deaths disputed by Whitmer administration

Auditors plan to release their review next week, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services sought to publicly preempt it.
Credit: AP
FILE - In a photo from Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department addresses the state. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration disputed the methodology and conclusions in a pending report that is expected to say there were nearly 30% more coronavirus-related deaths tied to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Michigan than reported by the state health department.(Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, File)

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration is disputing the methodology and conclusions in a pending report that is expected to say there were nearly 30% more coronavirus-related deaths tied to long-term care facilities in Michigan than reported by the state. 

Auditors plan to release their review next week, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services sought to publicly preempt it.

In a letter written Sunday and released Wednesday, director Elizabeth Hertel referenced "serious concerns" to the state auditor's office — including with its plan to combine COVID-19 deaths at facilities that are subject to state or federal reporting requirements and those that aren't.

Confronted with surging hospitalizations early in the pandemic, Michigan addressed the discharge of coronavirus patients no longer needing acute care but still in quarantine.

Whitmer ordered that nursing homes not prohibit the admission or readmission of residents based on COVID-19 testing results. Her office told the Justice Department, however, that the policy never went into effect because the state health department did not issue necessary guidance due to nursing homes’ concerns.

Her order also required homes with occupancy below 80% to create a unit dedicated to residents with the virus. Hospitals had to send recovering COVID-19 patients back to their nursing facilities — if they had a dedicated unit, protective equipment for staff and enough beds — or to regional “hub” nursing homes.

Republican lawmakers have accused the governor of fueling the spread of the virus in places with vulnerable residents. There is no evidence the policy led to infections, however.

Gov. Whitmer said the policy complied with federal guidance.

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