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Gov. Whitmer stands by early pandemic nursing home policy amid renewed criticism

governor gretchen whitmer standing at a podium

Michigan’s governor is standing by an early-pandemic executive order that created dedicated COVID-19 units within long-term care facilities, despite renewed criticism from Republican lawmakers.

During a joint Oversight Committee hearing Thursday, lawmakers pressed Michigan Department of Health and Human Services leadership about an auditor general's report they claimed showed an undercount of deaths resulting from that policy.

Speaking to reporters after a roundtable discussion on serving the state’s senior population Friday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer defended the policy.

“We looked to the CDC, and certainly the Trump administration CDC gave us the rules to follow. We followed them, and that’s exactly what the report says. And because of the work we did, we saved a lot of people,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said.

The state’s count of COVID deaths connected to long-term care facilities relied on the facilities to report their own numbers.

During Thursday’s hearing, Senate Oversight Committee chair Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp) questioned that practice.

“Without somebody coming down and doing a standardized audit of facilities, I’m concerned that the numbers you’re depending on can’t be depended on by us,” McBroom said.

But Whitmer said the auditor general’s review affirmed her administration’s data.

“We also know we followed the CDC guidelines at every step of the way. So, our experience was hard, but we were able to get through this because we followed the science and we kept people safe,” Whitmer said.

The executive order creating the COVID units has since been rescinded.

The report found a nearly 30% difference between its count of COVID deaths in long-term care facilities and the state’s numbers. But MDHHS leadership said the report used a faulty data source and defined the term “long-term care facility” too broadly.

During Thursday’s hearing, the question came up of why the auditor general's report used the word “differences” rather than “underreport” to describe discrepancies between his and the health department's numbers.

“We knew the department wasn’t tracking all of the ones that we reflected in our letter, so we didn’t feel the word ‘underreport’ was fair. We cited it as a difference,” state Auditor General Doug Ringler told lawmakers.

Despite the health department’s concerns, he stood by the findings listed in his review.

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