Michigan health director stands by nursing home COVID-19 death tracking

Lansing — Michigan health Director Elizabeth Hertel told lawmakers Thursday she believes the state’s tracking of COVID-19 deaths linked to nursing homes is accurate, but a key Republican said he wants the Auditor General’s office to examine the numbers.

The comments highlighted the continued and contentious dispute between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and the Republicans who control the Legislature over the handling of long-term care facilities during the pandemic.

Democratic and GOP lawmakers even briefly disagreed Thursday over the official description of the agenda for the House Oversight Committee’s hearing. Republican legislators argue the Department of Health and Human Services is under-counting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes, but direct proof of that claim remains sparse 15 months after the state reported its first COVID-19 cases.

Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services directly, addresses the media before a COVID-19 vaccination facility opens on March 31, 2021. On Thursday, June 3, 2021 Hertel defended her department's counting of nursing home deaths caused by COVID-19 while testifying to state legislators.

“The number that is being reported is accurate,” Hertel told the House Oversight Committee on Thursday morning. “Because the number we have reported on our website is self-reported from the nursing homes.”

She added later, “I don’t think that the nursing homes have any reason or incentive to try to hide the deaths that have occurred in their residents.”