Michigan defends tally of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes amid new report

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click to enlarge Michigan defends tally of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes amid new report

Michigan underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 42%, according to a report released Tuesday by the state’s Office of Auditor General.

The months-long review found nearly 2,400 additional COVID-19 deaths that were not reported.

The audit counted 8,061 COVID-19 deaths between Jan. 1, 2020, and July 29, 2021, in licensed nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, adult foster care homes, assisted living facilities, and licensed homes for the elderly. Included in the count is 1,051 deaths that facilities were not required to report to the state.

The audit does not allege wrongdoing or accuse the state of deliberately underreporting deaths.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services disagreed with the methodology and conclusions in the report and disputed 1,511 of the deaths, saying they were based on unreliable data entered into the state’s Disease Surveillance System.

“MDHHS appreciates the OAG’s recognition of the fact that the department accurately compiled and published the long-term care COVID-19 death data supplied by Michigan’s long-term care facilities, as well as their recognition of MDHHS’s work ensuring the reasonableness and integrity of the data reported,” MDHHS said in a written statement. “However, we continue to have serious concerns about both the methodology employed to compare long-term care facilities’ self-reported data to death certificate data from Michigan's Electronic Death Registry System and COVID-19 case and death data from the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, as well as the conclusions they’ve drawn from this review.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office also defended the state's tally.

“Throughout the pandemic, the State of Michigan closely followed the data and science within the CDC’s guidelines to slow the spread of the virus and save lives," Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy told Metro Times in a statement. "The Office of the Auditor General confirmed Michigan counted 100% of COVID-19 deaths that were reported to the state per CDC guidelines and accurately reported the numbers provided by nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”

The state agency also emphasized that it was transparent about its methodology and took issue with the audit combining deaths in facilities that were required to report and those that weren’t.

“We are concerned the report will be misinterpreted to question the work and integrity of long-term care facilities, local health departments, coroners and other frontline workers who we rely on to report data,” MDHHS said. “Throughout the pandemic MDHHS has clearly stated what would be included in our COVID-19 long-term care facility death data. We were upfront and clear about what deaths were and were not included in our count."

State health officials encouraged lawmakers to “improve data collection and reporting in the future by investing in public health infrastructure.”

“Our ability to upgrade and maintain data collection platforms is vital in being able to collect, analyze, and report accurate information during times of emergency or urgency,” MDHHS said. “Clearly, our data platforms are outdated as all verification methods identified rely on manual data entry. Additional investment in our state public health data platforms is essential for us to provide this information quickly and transparently to the public. Further, health care facilities in Michigan are not required to regularly report pertinent public health data. Consistent collection of public health data from providers would improve the efficacy and efficiency of data reporting.”

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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