True coronavirus long-term care death toll a mystery in Michigan

Michiganders still don’t know how many lives COVID-19 claimed in all categories of long-term care facilities

Michiganders still don’t know how many lives COVID-19 claimed in all categories of long-term care facilities, although the state has been collecting the data since May 29.

Other states such as Minnesota have already reported the information, breaking down the deaths in nursing homes, memory care, and hospice facilities.

Minnesota totaled 1,438 COVID-19 nursing home resident deaths across all long-term care categories. The majority (981) are in nursing homes, but there are hundreds more in other categories, including:

  • Assisted living: 387
  • Memory care: 62
  • Group home: 40
  • Transitional Care Unit: 5
  • Hospice: 3

In Michigan, the number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths alone is 2,144.

The toll in other categories isn't clear because an accurate number would require calling thousands of facilities.

The state started collecting all categories of long-term care death data since May 29 but isn’t able to confirm accurate reporting in the thousands of facilities, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square.

“MDHHS is dedicated to providing timely, accurate data concerning COVID-19 in Michigan,” Sutfin wrote in an email.

“In addition to the concern over privacy due to facility size, we have not been able to conduct in-depth validation of this data that parallels the work done with nursing facilities. With more than 4,000+ licensed and up to 7,000 including the non-licensed facilities, we do not have the ability to ensure all facilities are reporting accurately.”

In comparison, Minnesota has fewer licensed facilities.

  • Nursing home: 361
  • Boarding Care home: 21
  • Hospice: 143
  • Housing with Services Establishments: 2,287
  • Intermediate Care Facility – Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities: 133

The Department of Justice has requested nursing home data in its investigation of four states run by Democratic governors, including New York and Michigan, for their nursing home policies via Executive Orders requiring nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients into their facilities.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s spokesperson Tiffany Brown dismissed the request as "nothing more than election year politics."

Two of those governors, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Michigan’s Whitmer Thursday called for a Congressional investigation into President Donald Trump administration’s “politicization of government functions that have impeded the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The governors asserted in their joint statement: “It is an inarguable fact that the United States has had the worst response to the COVID-19 virus of any nation in the world. Nearly 7 million Americans have tested positive for the virus, and more than 200,000 Americans have been killed by it – both more than any other country. The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of this tragedy is the direct result of President Trump and the federal government's deceit, political self-dealing, and incompetence.”

They continued: “Rather than turning to the advice and direction of public health experts and career public servants, President Trump instead put the health and security of the American people in the hands of political appointees whose first priority was securing the reelection of their benefactor, with predictably tragic results.”

The two argued the White House blocked a plan for the U.S. Postal Service to ship five masks to all households in the country in April, as well as stymied recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services to test asymptomatic people for COVID-19.

“As a country, we cannot allow this type of politically-motivated decision-making to take root,” they said. “Logic dictates that COVID won’t be the last public health challenge we will face, and we can’t afford to again respond by playing politics, instead of listening to the science and facts.”

Earlier this month, Whitmer’s nursing home task force announced recommendations to improve the care and quality of life in nursing homes during COVID-19.