By Allan Lengel and Violet Ikonomova
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Monday she won't open an investigation into Gov. Whitmer's handling of Covid in Michigan nursing homes, rejecting a request by eight GOP state senators.
"Though I will not hesitate to act when justified, I also will not abuse the investigatory powers of this Department to launch a political attack on any state official, regardless of party or beliefs,” Nessel, a Democrat and Whitmer ally, writes in a letter to state Sen. Jim Runestad of White Lake.
The senators signed a Feb. 23 letter raising concerns about Whitmer's Covid policies for nursing homes, the accuracy of Covid reporting data, compliance with federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines and the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
New York's attorney general, who is also a Democrat, opened an investigation into that state's Covid response in nursing homes after receiving a series of complaints from residents. It found that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration undercounted the number of Covid-19 deaths in the homes by up to 50 percent, that his initial policy to have sick patients placed in the same facility as healthy ones “may have put residents at increased risk of harm,” and that a state decision to grant immunity protections to nursing home operators may have led them to make financially motivated decisions at the height of the pandemic.
Whitmer also employs a policy that lets sick patients be held at homes with healthy ones — provided they're placed in a designated unit — and implemented similar liability protections for nursing home operators via executive order.
Nessel's office told Deadline Detroit last week that it has received resident complaints about the Covid-19 response in nursing homes, but that they were forwarded to the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs because they were deemed non-criminal.
"As an initial matter, I see no evidence in your letter or elsewhere to suggest that Governor Whitmer’s efforts to contain Covid-19 in Michigan’s nursing homes resulted in increased deaths," Nessel wrote to the lawmakers. "To the contrary, a recent report by the Center for Health and Research Transformation at the University of Michigan concluded that, overall, Michigan’s strategy to contain Covid-19 nursing homes 'performed well.' ”
"The study noted that 'Michigan’s nursing home residents constituted a smaller proportion of overall COVID-19 deaths than the U.S. average,'" Nessel writes. "In any event, bad policy alone would not be grounds for an investigation by my office."
As for the FOIA policies, Nessel writes: "Your letter does not even identify a specific FOIA request that has been sent, which would be the bare minimum to initiate any sort of action under FOIA."