Did Michigan undercount COVID deaths in long-term care facilities? MDHHS director says no

Review expected to be released

At its core, here we're talking about a difference in definitions. The state says they've been following what the CDC considers a death in a long-term care facility.

DETROIT – Did Michigan undercount COVID deaths in long-term care facilities? A review coming out next week reportedly shows it did -- but Michigan’s director of health says that claim is false.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel is accusing the report of purposefully making it look like certain deaths weren’t counted.

At its core it’s about a difference in definitions. The state said it’s been following what the CDC considers a death in a long-term care facility -- the Auditor General’s Office used a much more broad standard and now concerns are being raised that the broader definition was done for political purposes.

Read: Whitmer admin disputes pending report on Michigan nursing home deaths

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has followed CDC guidelines on which facilities need to report and which ones don’t. That means some places we think of as long-term care aren’t, according to health officials.

The yet-to-be released review, according to health and administration officials, takes a different and much broader look based on a request from Wayland Republican representative Steven Johnson. It’s expected to say the state didn’t count more than 2,000 long-term care facility deaths, even though they were counted in the state’s overall total.

“In order to be in a long-term care facility you have to meet criteria. You have to be medically frail, you have to be a need assistance. That’s what a long-term care facility is. Just because people may think these things are included in that doesn’t make them that,” Hertel said.

In an email from the auditor general to MDHHS, read to, but not seen by Local 4 -- Whitmer administration officials say the auditor general told MDHHS, “if we used the exact approach in reporting those deaths we would reach the same number.”

The review is expected to say the state accurately counted 100% of facility deaths under CDC guidelines.

“It’s really unfortunate that the representative Johnson appears to be using the Auditor General to help spread inaccuracies and untruths about people in long-term care facilities,” Hertel said.

This isn’t the first time the Auditor General’s Office has been has been accused of getting involved in party politics. Late last year county clerks had similar concerns. The auditor general was being used as a political tool for conducting so-called audits of elections at the request of Republicans, even though it’s not their job.

Administration officials pointed to the fact the auditor general is appointed by the legislature and his current term is up this year to back up their concern. THe OAG declined an interview and told Local 4 to wait for the review to be released.

Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage

About the Author:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.