Runestad calls on Senate to disapprove Hertel as health director

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Jim Runestad on Wednesday said he would support the Michigan Senate disapproving the appointment of the state’s new health director, Elizabeth Hertel.

“Like many others, I had hope that Elizabeth Hertel might be an improvement over the last director,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “Unfortunately, her responses in committee were disappointing.”

Runestad was referring to a Senate committee hearing on Hertel’s appointment last week that raised serious concerns.

Hertel, who has worked as a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services prior to her appointment as director, was asked what the biggest mistake the department had made over the past year in managing the pandemic. Hertel paused and then responded she was unsure and would have to review all of the decisions that had been made, ultimately concluding that “it’s difficult for me to say what would have been a mistake or what we could have done differently.” When pressed on this question, Hertel was unable to identify any particular mistake or issue the department should have handled differently.

“The administration’s executive orders led to putting COVID-19-infected patients into the same facilities as our most vulnerable, yet Hertel can’t think of anything they could have done differently?” Runestad said. “That is unacceptable.”

“The families who lost loved ones deserve answers for how this happened, why it was allowed to happen, and why the administration isn’t providing the data on nursing home deaths. Director Hertel needs to share that information now.”

When Hertel was asked about the metrics her department is using to make decisions and when they would indicate the state is out of a pandemic, she answered that there were no specific criteria to make this determination in her view.

“I don’t believe (there) is a way to put a threshold number that says here’s yes and here’s no,” Hertel said. “If I were to say to you for example we would be out of a pandemic when we get to two cases per million, why would it be two cases per million, why is it not three, why is it not one? It’s hard to say; there’s a range.”

According to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, when restaurants in the state were closed last November, Michigan was the only state in the country doing so without a data-driven matrix guiding the decision. Over 3,000 restaurants in the state have already closed permanently, while Michigan’s unemployment rate is currently the 39th in the nation.

Hertel was appointed to replace former Director Robert Gordon, who resigned abruptly on Jan. 22. The governor has repeatedly refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding Gordon’s departure. Hertel’s appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, which has until March 23 to consider disapproval.

“The more we learn about the administration’s handling of their coronavirus policies, the worse it appears,” Runestad said. “Every day, we’re hearing more about the lack of transparency, lack of a plan, and the disastrous consequences they created for our most vulnerable and all Michiganders. Director Hertel needs to be more transparent in this.”

Note: To see a video of Hertel’s committee testimony, visit https://misenate.viebit.com/player.php?hash=TXh50w1xamPl