by Scott McClallen
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff says Michigan has undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
The accusation follows a settlement between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and LeDuff with legal services provided by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. LeDuff and the MCPP sued the government when it failed to provide public records as required by law.
“This data is an essential part of accurately understanding the effects of this pandemic and the public policy implemented in response,” Steve Delie, an attorney and the Mackinac Center’s FOIA expert, said in a May 21 statement. “It also leaves open the possibility that the state is undercounting the number of deaths of those in nursing homes.”
LeDuff found MDHHS conducted a limited review of vital records of deaths from March to June and found that only 44% could be traced to nursing homes.
Of 1,468 vital records selected from March through June 2020, only 648 deaths — or 44% — were traced back to nursing homes and long-term facilities. Michigan tracked 5,653 COVID-19 deaths back to nursing homes.
Another 6,945 deaths among Michigan’s total 19,090 COVID-19 fatalities are classified as “vital records reviews,” LeDuff writes in Deadline Detroit, recorded only after health officials determined the cause of death as COVID-19.
But if that 44% number is applied to the nearly 6,000 vital records of COVID-19 nursing home patients, LeDuff argued there might be thousands more untallied nursing home deaths.
But nobody knows because “Long-term care facility Covid-19 data, which is reported on this web page comes from the facilities themselves, so it doesn’t include any data from Vital Records reviews,” MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton told LeDuff.
However, LeDuff says the state decided to stop checking whether a vital record of death could be traced to nursing homes. Wheaton told LeDuff they weren’t able to do this review “regularly due to how time-consuming it is and the amount of resources we need to devote to doing this.”
MDHHS didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview from The Center Square.
Wheaton told Fox News: “The death certificate contains a check box that the provider reporting the death would check if the individual was a resident of a nursing home or congregate-care facility,” he said, adding that “names and addresses for deaths that occurred in the hospital were matched with the addresses of long-term-care facilities to identify people who had died in the hospital but were residents of a long term care facility.”
In a phone interview with The Center Square, LeDuff called for an investigation— whether through MDHHS, the Attorney General’s office, or money allocated through the legislature – to analyze all 19,090 death certificates and check where they lived.
“It’s more accurate than not counting at all,” he said. “This is the government’s duty,” LeDuff said.
LeDuff compared the situation to New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo allegedly suppressed the real number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
“New York kept count and lied about it. Michigan started looking into it, found a number they didn’t like, and they stopped counting,” LeDuff said. “Which is worse?”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.