Michigan Attorney General Nessel: Report Refutes Allegation State Undercounted Nursing Home COVID Deaths

by Scott McClallen


A January 2022 Office of Auditor General’s (OAG) report alleging Michigan undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by 42%, or 2,386 is being refuted by an analysis shared by Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Nessel released a further analysis tracked by the Health, Education, and Family Services Division within the Department of Attorney General.

The report notes: “[T]he characterization by legislators and various media outlets – suggesting that the [Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] intentionally underreported and misrepresented the number of COVID-19 deaths at [long-term care] facilities – is not supported by OAG’s report.”

The confusion hinged on which long-term deaths should be counted. The OAG report calculated the total number of COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities was 8,061, compared to the state’s previous self-reported tally of 5,675.

Much of the discrepancy stemmed from different counting methods.

“OAG’s report acknowledges that, for much of the discrepancy between the MDHHS’s official number of LTC COVID-19 deaths and OAG’s separate count, the discrepancy is based on OAG’s inclusion of LTC facilities that are not included in MDHHS’s count,” the new report says. “In addition, OAG’s report does not suggest any malintent by MDHHS…. And, OAG’s report does not discuss or address the Governor’s Executive Orders related to LTC facilities during the pandemic.”

Nearly half of the disputed 2,386 deaths stem from federal reporting requirements mandating large long-term care facilities such as skilled nursing facilities, adult foster homes, and homes for the aged must report COVID-19 deaths. Smaller facilities – typically with fewer than 13 beds – were not required to report COVID-19 deaths.

The actual discrepancy was 1,355 deaths, the new report says.

The memo says the two analyses “assessed” different LTC facilities and “relied” on separate death records.

“The analyses are simply distinct methods of trying to reach the same number, albeit of a different set of facilities,” the memo said. “Thus, comparing the counts is largely meaningless. Moreover, neither count was generated through malice or ill intent. And, most importantly, neither MDHHS nor OAG suggests that any law has been broken. For these reasons, based on a preliminary review and MDHHS’s ongoing efforts, further investigation by the Department is unwarranted at this time.”

In May, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff sued MDHHS, alleging it undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths and other long-term care facilities.

At the time, MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told The Center Square in an email that the audit used definitions different than federal reporting requirements that Michigan harnessed.

“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,” Sutfin wrote.

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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.
Photo “Dana Nessel” by Dana Nessel. Background Photo “Nursing Home Bed” by Mark Hillary. CC BY 2.0.

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