State Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel wrote a letter to Auditor General Doug Ringler this week raising “serious concerns.” Her objections include the comparison of self-reported data from facilities to death certificate data from a disease surveillance system that she said is not designed for death investigations, and the addition of deaths from facilities that do not have to report.
She cited inaccurate addresses associated with cases, trouble matching addresses and how a nursing home may share an address with a hospice or assisted living facility.
Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said the review confirmed that Michigan “accurately reported the numbers provided by nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”
In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Steve Johnson, Ringler said the health department disagreed with 1,511 deaths in the tally because it questioned the reliability of the address field in the disease reporting system. He said it is reliable, and auditors corroborated at least 85% of the 1,511 addresses using other information.
GOP legislators have criticized the Democratic governor for allowing hospitalized virus patients no longer needing acute care, but still in quarantine, to return to designated units in nursing homes as some hospitals faced surging cases early in the pandemic.
Whitmer has said the policy complied with federal guidance, though critics have questioned if it contributed to the virus spreading to vulnerable people. State health officials and the long-term care industry have said outside community spread, including from infected workers, is the strongest predictor of cases inside the facilities.
A year ago in New York, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration was forced to acknowledge a major undercount of nursing home residents who died because it tallied just those who died on facility grounds, not later in the hospital. Michigan includes both in its count.
Long-term care facilities have reported the deaths of 6,216 infected residents and 93 staff members during the pandemic. They account for 22% of Michigan’s more than 28,400 confirmed deaths.