Runestad Oakland Press op-ed: Time to investigate COVID-19 nursing home policies in Michigan, too

By Sen. Jim Runestad
15th Senate District

Anyone following the national news knows that in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration recently admitted to withholding data about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

After an investigation by New York’s attorney general, it was discovered that the administration had undercounted the number of deaths in nursing home facilities by more than 50%. Even the FBI and federal prosecutors have opened their own investigation into Gov. Cuomo’s coronavirus task force and the governor’s handling of nursing homes.

Gov. Cuomo was one of a handful of governors nationwide who ignored early advice from medical experts and needlessly exposed nursing home residents to COVID-19.

What other governors made the same, tragic decision? Gretchen Whitmer, for one.

At a time when we knew Michigan seniors were the most vulnerable to this heinous virus, Gov. Whitmer’s orders put COVID-19-positive patients into the same homes as those most at risk. The administration’s regional hub policy very well may have increased the death toll among our most vulnerable population.

As in New York, Gov. Whitmer’s administration has been questioned repeatedly about discrepancies in the reported numbers of deaths in long-term care facilities. And yet, there remains no clear reporting path to document nursing home patient cases and exposures by facility.

Michiganders know there are many, many similarities between the two governors’ handling of the virus: their unilateral overreach (both struck down by the courts), their allusion to vague metrics and data, their questionable vaccine distribution plans, and their outright defiance to losing their emergency powers. The alarming similarities with New York raise serious questions about what really happened in Michigan.

An investigation into the nursing home situation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It wasn’t partisan in New York, with a Democratic attorney general leading the way. Democrats in the State Assembly have also fought for justice, with some legislators even calling for the governor’s resignation.

But here in Michigan, Attorney General Dana Nessel has refused to investigate the matter.

Last year, I called on the attorney general to investigate how the Whitmer administration used taxpayer dollars to hire a political consultant to contact-trace Michiganders. To her credit, Ms. Nessel did launch an investigation. Unfortunately, members of the administration refused to cooperate, and ultimately the investigation went nowhere.

This time around, we’re not just talking about potential fraud. We’re talking about decisions that had life-and-death consequences for our most vulnerable residents. I hope our state’s justice department will show the same zeal in investigating our current governor as they have shown in investigating our former.

Justice shouldn’t be partisan. And accountability should apply to both parties. Hopefully, Ms. Nessel will come to the same conclusion and do her part.

Why does this all matter? It matters as long as justice and accountability still matter in this world. It matters as long as the public cares about achieving true justice for the lives lost in this pandemic. In New York, it mattered to the families of the 6,500 individuals who recently learned the truth about how their loved ones died. It should matter to every Michigander who has lost a loved one in a nursing home — a supposedly safe place — and has been grieving ever since.

I’ve made it my mission as a state senator to make a difference for families and the most vulnerable, and to fight for transparency and accountability in our government.

It would be nice to see our attorney general, the Michigan Department of Justice and members of both parties do the same thing for the families of the grieving.

It is long past time we do the right thing.

It is long past time that Michigan’s COVID-19 nursing home policies are investigated once and for all.

This op-ed appeared in the March 1, 2021 edition of The Oakland Press. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.