Michigan disputes Auditor General’s count of long-term care COVID deaths

MDHHS director says report purposefully makes it seem like certain deaths weren’t counted

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

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

Local 4 was able to obtain the 13-page review which was sent to the chair of the House Oversight Committee.

It appears there’s an undercount, but the state and governor’s office are pushing back on the review that admits significant limitations and warnings about the numbers it used.

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

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

The review obtained by Local 4 isn’t set to be released until Monday. In it, the auditor general leads off by saying it does not meet state standards for an official audit, but said, “We have no reason to question the accuracy.”

The review shows disputed numbers: 8,061 deaths in long-term care facilities. It adds nearly 2,400 deaths to the state’s total. Although does not say the state accurately tallied and reported all of the 5,675 COVID deaths in long-term care facilities between Jan. 1 of 2020 and July 7 of last year.

The report also admits there are limits to the data used. Mirroring recent complaints from the state’s health department and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration that the auditor general used broader definitions outside CDC guidance for both a COVID death and a long-term care facility. That means the state wouldn’t have collected those numbers in the first place. That accounts for about 10% of the difference.

That still leaves a 19% increase coming from places that would have been required to report deaths to MDHHS. But again those numbers are disputed by state officials who say the data came from an unreliable state database. The report also includes multiple warnings about numbers from unidentifiable facilities, probable but unconfirmed COVID deaths, and deaths potentially mislabeled as COVID where patients had a negative test at the time of their death.

In response, Whitmer’s press secretary Bobby Leddy did not talk about the difference in numbers, but instead said:

“Throughout the pandemic, the state of Michigan closely followed the data and science within the CDC’s guidelines to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. The Office of the Auditor General confirmed Michigan counted 100% of COVID-19 deaths that were reported to the state per CDC guidelines.”

Republicans have been calling the review truthful, despite problems with the data and definitions, and are pointing to Whitmer’s decision to put positive patients in nursing homes as the culprit. Still a major controversy. The review does not look at that policy specifically and does not draw any conclusions about it, only that these numbers do differ from what the state has.

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.