Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Director Elizabeth Hertel acknowledged Thursday that coronavirus-related nursing home deaths “could be” undercounted in the state.
The Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) appointee disputed to the House Oversight Committee previously reported data that could indicate there has not been a full accounting of all deaths in long term care facilities.
Independent journalist Charlie LeDuff reported last week virus-related deaths could be undercounted by as much as 100 percent.
To date, MDHHS claims 29 percent of coronavirus-related deaths occurred in nursing homes, or about 5,600, according to Bridge. But LeDuff reported a review of vital records from March 2020 to June 2020 found 44 percent “were traced back to nursing homes and other long-term facilities.”
An MDHHS spokesman told LeDuff the review was stopped because it was too “time consuming.”
During questioning, Republican legislators sought not to hold Hertel accountable for the department’s decisions when she was not the director. But she served as former Director Robert Gordon’s deputy throughout the pandemic.
Towards the end of the hearing, Hertel attempted to correct a conclusion made by committee chairman state Rep. Steve Johnson (R), but in doing so, admitted she does not know the true number, either.
BREAKING: @GovWhitmer's MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel admits in House Oversight Committee hearing that the State's nursing home death count "could be low" noting "we do not know because we don't know what's occurring in those facilities". pic.twitter.com/QKESkBaa7K
— Michigan Rising Action (@MIRisingAction) June 3, 2021
“I would like to be clear that I said ‘could be low,’ I don’t know,” Hertel said of the death count.
“I want to be clear that if we’re quoting the things that I’m saying, I’d like them to be accurate. I said they could be low,” she repeated.
“We do not know because we don’t know what’s occurring in those facilities,” she added.
As the hearing concluded, Johnson said he is going to ask the Michigan Auditor General to conduct an audit on the nursing home deaths “to give us a more accurate picture.”
He did not indicate when that process might begin or how long it would take.
Watch the full hearing here: