Eight Republican Michigan state senators sent letters to acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday demanding investigations into Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes.
Residents of Michigan’s long-term care facilities represent 5,549 of the 16,436 suspected and confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the state since the start of the pandemic, according to the state’s latest available reporting. The GOP lawmakers requested Nessel and Wilkinson investigate whether Whitmer’s April 15 executive order, which prohibited nursing homes in most cases from barring admission to residents who were previously hospitalized with the virus, contributed to the death toll.
Whitmer issued an additional executive order in late May that allowed nursing homes to accept patients from hospitals even if they were still contagious with the virus, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Whitmer’s orders did contain some noteworthy exceptions for nursing homes. For example, her orders required Michigan nursing homes to only accept patients previously hospitalized with COVID-19 only if they were below 80% capacity and had an isolation unit dedicated to the care of such patients.
Michigan nursing homes that did not meet those requirements were required under Whitmer’s orders to transfer COVID-positive patients to a regional hub or a hospital in the state with available bed capacity.
State Sen. Jim Runestad, who spearheaded the letters, said Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 in Michigan nursing homes shares close similarities to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the virus in his state’s long-term care facilities.
“There are too many similarities between what happened in New York and what’s happened here in Michigan not to open an investigation. The families who lost loved ones deserve to know what happened and to get justice,” Runestad told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“At a time when we knew how dangerous the virus was to our seniors, the Whitmer administration ignored advice from medical experts and the nursing home industry, and put COVID patients into nursing homes with our most vulnerable,” Runestad said.
Whitmer has previously rejected claims that her orders required nursing homes to accept patients with COVID.
“That was the CDC guidelines, that’s what we followed,” Whitmer said in a June interview with 7 Action News. “We never required a single nursing home to take in a patient that was recovering from COVID-19, it’s just plain false.”
Cuomo’s administration issued an executive order on March 25 that stated: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.” The Cuomo administration order did not contain exemptions for nursing homes similar to the ones provided in Whitmer’s orders.
The Cuomo administration’s order, which was rescinded in May, resulted in over 9,000 COVID-19 positive patients being released from hospitals into New York nursing homes, according to the Associated Press.
The FBI and a U.S. attorney in New York are currently investigating Cuomo over his handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic after his top aide told state lawmakers they withheld the true number of resident deaths from COVID-19 out of fear the data would be weaponized by the Trump administration.
The Michigan GOP lawmakers also alleged in their letters that Whitmer’s orders could have also resulted in an undercounting of the state’s nursing home death toll.
“When we contacted nursing homes in our districts, there were discrepancies in how cases were being reported,” the letter stated. “When there is a suspected case of the virus and the patient is transferred to a hospital and receives a positive test result at the hospital, some nursing home facilities are reporting a positive test in their numbers, while others are not.”
“The executive orders have only required long-term care facilities to report when they have a resident who had a positive test at their facility, but not when a patient who was transferred tests positive,” the letter stated.
Whitmer’s office did not return a request for comment.
Whitmer and Cuomo previously balked at a Justice Department request in August for nursing home data for Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“This is nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention,” Cuomo and Whitmer said in a joint statement in August. “It’s no coincidence the moment the Trump administration is caught weakening the CDC’s COVID-19 testing guidelines to artificially lower the number of positive cases, they launched this nakedly partisan deflection.”