A much-awaited report by the Michigan auditor general has found a large discrepancy in nursing home deaths reported by the Whitmer administration. The actual number of COVID deaths related to these facilities is 42% higher, a mismatch that should prompt further scrutiny.

The numbers are important for several reasons. First, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders during much of 2020 directly impacted nursing homes by requiring they take in COVID-positive patients released from the hospital. She continued this policy for six months, even after being warned by elder care leaders and many others that it was dangerous and the state should be sending these individuals to separate facilities. That’s what the vast majority of other states did. Whitmer also vetoed bipartisan legislation in July 2020 that would have protected nursing home residents.

Second, Whitmer claimed she was using “science and data” to guide her lockdowns and stay-home order that impacted all of our lives. Her administration should have done everything in its power to know exactly who was most at risk of COVID.

The auditor general report underscores the elderly were the most vulnerable, with 37% of all deaths related to those in long-term care. Consequently, Whitmer’s orders didn’t need to shut down such a wide swath of the economy for so long.

The Office of the Auditor General, headed by Doug Ringler, released its findings earlier this week, highlighting 2,386 more deaths in long-term facilities than reported by the state health department. As of July 2, the state had posted 5,675 COVID deaths in long-term care centers, and the auditor general found 8,061.

It’s no surprise that Whitmer and her health officials have reacted to the report with defensiveness and excuses, rather than a willingness to look at what they could have done — and could do — better.

In an unusual move, health director Elizabeth Hertel came out ahead of the investigation’s release and criticized the findings. She claims the auditor general used methods that didn’t mesh with how the health department tracked COVID deaths at these facilities.

The Whitmer administration maintains it made available accurate numbers self-reported by long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, adult foster care and homes for the aged. But the administration doesn’t require homes with fewer than 13 residents to report.

The auditor general broadened its search to include the smaller facilities. Yet it’s important to note that even among the facilities required to self-report, the audit found 24% more deaths.

House Oversight Committee chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, requested the audit last summer and says the fact the state took “as gospel truth” what nursing homes reported was “at best lazy, and at worst complicit.”

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel has resisted multiple requests from Republican lawmakers to examine Whitmer’s nursing home policy and its impact on the state’s most vulnerable. She claimed there wasn’t enough evidence.

Now there is, and Nessel should put her partisanship aside and start investigating the numbers to see if there was any negligence on Whitmer’s part. Nessel’s office has charged former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, with willful neglect of duty in the Flint water crisis, and Whitmer’s nursing home orders deserve a similar analysis.

Given the partisan way Nessel has run her office, however, no one should expect she will investigate her fellow Democrat. The Legislature should ask that the matter be turned over to the federal prosecutor.

Whitmer chose to rule the state unilaterally during much of the pandemic, and as this nursing home audit reveals, her orders demand a careful review.


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