Michigan’s Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer may soon be forced to turn over documents relating to her administration’s COVID-19 nursing home policy. On Thursday, the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee voted to subpoena nursing home records from the state’s health department, the Detroit News reported, in an effort to get a clearer picture of how Whitmer’s policies impacted the COVID-19 death rate in Michigan adult and long-term care facilities.
“Oversight Chairman Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said he had requested documents from the Department of Health and Human Services on March 2, but two months later, officials hadn’t released any records to him,” the Detroit News noted. “McBroom said he’s looking for communications among state health department employees about policies for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Whitmer administration reportedly had a policy similar to that of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who required that nursing and other adult and long-term care facilities accept patients recovering from COVID-19, even if those patients remained contagious or still tested positive for the virus. The policy in New York may have led to tens of thousands of coronavirus-related deaths.
Journalist Charlie LeDuff announced last month that he and others were “suing the state of Michigan to release information regarding Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order that funneled nursing home residents hospitalized with COVID-19 back into nursing homes,” information, LeDuff claimed, Whitmer “is hiding from the public.”
“According to state data, 5,712 COVID-19 deaths in Michigan have been either residents or staff of long-term care facilities, equaling about 31% of the statewide virus-linked deaths,” the Detroit News reported, adding that the state had ordered “regional hubs” — nursing home specially equipped to handle returning patients who needed to be isolated — to operate during the pandemic to keep potentially contagious patients away from vulnerable nursing home residents.
Republicans had pushed for the governor to mandate COVID-19 patients be sent to separate facilities where there were no additional adults requiring care.
But the content of Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders are under seal, LeDuff noted in an op-ed for USA Today, because Michigan’s governor’s office is largely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act laws, and the state has been reticent to turn over the information voluntarily. What information they had, they told LeDuff and others, was off-limits because it would reveal private health data in violation of both state and federal law.
Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, is a Whitmer ally and, despite evidence that New York’s similar policy caused perhaps thousands of deaths, refused to investigate Michigan’s COVID-19 nursing home edicts, according to the Detroit Free Press. Nessel claimed the request, which came from Republican lawmakers, did not show “any law has been violated.”
“I appreciate that you and your colleagues have policy disagreements with Governor Whitmer’s response to COVID-19. But an investigation by my office is not the mechanism to resolve those disagreements,” Nessel said in her response denying the request.
The vote Thursday compels the state’s health department to begin producing some of the estimated 55,000 individual documents on the issue within two weeks.