Reporter to Sue Gov. Whitmer Over Nursing Home Death Data

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

A legal foundation in Michigan is preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of a reporter against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the release of comprehensive COVID-19 nursing home death data.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff wrote in a recent tweet: “We are preparing a lawsuit against Gov. Whitmer of Michigan. She refuses to turn over COVID death data and accurate nursing home numbers to the public.

“All the way to the Supreme Court, Madam. Thanks to the [Mackinac Center Legal Foundation], who has agreed to take our case.”

Michigan state data covering the period of Jan. 1, 2020, to Feb. 23, 2021, shows that 5,523 nursing home residents died of COVID-19. Yet questions have swirled about the accuracy of this data, with Republican state legislators in Michigan recently issuing a call for a probe into Whitmer’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and claiming “discrepancies” in the death data.

Spokesperson Holly Wetzel confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has agreed to represent LeDuff in the lawsuit.

“Mr. LeDuff approached us after being denied access to the records that underlie the data being reported by the state,” Wetzel told the outlet via email. “We are seeking access to those records to be able to compare them to the numbers being reported by the state, and to gain a better understanding of COVID’s effect on Michigan.”

Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment by press time.

gretchen whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the media in Midland, Mich., on May 20, 2020. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Whitmer’s policy on sending COVID-19 patients to nursing homes was similar to that of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is facing criticism for allegedly underreporting deaths in long-term care facilities and for a controversial directive that may have fanned the flames of the outbreak in nursing homes.

Cuomo’s March 25, 2020, directive—subsequently reversed in May 2020—essentially prohibited nursing home operators from refusing to accept residents even if they tested positive for COVID-19.

LeDuff’s said in another tweet that, while Cuomo reversed his policy, Whitmer has not.

“Whitmer copied most everything from [Cuomo] on nursing homes. Except one HUGE difference. Cuomo stopped [COVID-positive] people from returning home back in May. Whitmer still allows it,” he wrote.

In the early days of the pandemic, Michigan—along with New York and four other states—implemented a policy that sought to prevent hospital overcrowding by returning medically stable seniors to the nursing homes they lived in. Whitmer’s April 15 executive order imposed a condition for such readmission, namely that the facilities had to set up dedicated isolation units and have adequate personal protective equipment. Critics have argued, however, that the policy of intermingling COVID-19 patients with others in nursing homes exposed vulnerable residents to the CCP virus and may have led to more deaths.

Meanwhile, at a hearing last week, Michigan House Oversight Committee Chair Steve Johnson, a Republican, said he contacted the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) asking for clarity on discrepancies between the department’s tracking numbers and figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on COVID-19 related deaths, ClickOnDetroit reported. The CDC figures show a lower number of COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities in Michigan compared to state numbers.

Responding in a letter, MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel told committee members that the state has “consistently implemented the most accurate reporting protocols with the goal of maintaining quality death data,” according to the outlet.

“MDHHS worked with legislative staff to ensure that the metrics and data surrounding nursing homes that were of interest to the Legislature were publicly available,” Hertel wrote, as cited by ClickOnDetroit.

“It is my belief that Michigan has done an exemplary job of collecting, tracking, and validating data throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and it cannot be overstated the commitment by our staff and partners in ensuring that the data is correct.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM