Michigan Health Director says nursing home COVID-19 deaths are accurate

Michigan's Health Director said Thursday that the state is accurately reporting the number of coronavirus-related deaths as Lansing Republicans question if the state is undercounting the total number.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel told lawmakers that the facilities have no "reason or incentive to try to hide" deaths.

Between March 1 and June 30 of 2020, there were 648 nursing home deaths, or a rate of about 44%. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation speculated before the Republican-led House Oversight Committee that the number went way up since the end of June.

"Since that date, we've had an additional 5,500 vital records found which, assuming if the rate holds, you can't necessarily do that, but if that holds it's an additional 2,400 nursing home deaths in Michigan that haven't been accounted for and that is an underestimate," said Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland)

Hertel said the claim is untrue.

"If it is identified in the death certificate as a nursing home death, it would have been reported by the nursing homes as a nursing home death as well. You can't add them together. ... You're double-counting," she said while acknowledging data limitations that make it difficult to cross-check what facilities report against vital records.

Michigan says 5,663 long-term care residents and 77 staff have died, accounting for 30% of roughly 19,200 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. The state requires long-term care facilities — nursing homes, homes for the aged, and larger adult foster care facilities — to report deaths and infections.

Hertel, who focused primarily on nursing home data, said 38 of Michigan's 311 adult foster care facilities licensed to serve 13 or more residents are not reporting data as required.

Hertel said they may not be reporting deaths or "maybe they haven't experienced any deaths."

Thousands of adult foster care facilities licensed to serve fewer than 13 residents are not mandated to report coronavirus information. At times, GOP legislators and Hertel differed over how to define what is considered a nursing home.

Republicans plan to investigate the death toll further. Johnson said he will ask the state auditor general to review the data "to see if they can find us a more accurate picture."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.