After Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat and close ally of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), rejected a call from the state GOP for an investigation into Whitmer’s handling of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying an investigation would “abuse the investigatory powers of this Department,” the GOP legislator leading the call for an investigation hinted this week that he might call for a special prosecutor to look into the issue.
In late February, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) and some Senate Republican colleagues sent letters to Nessel and the Department of Justice. Runestead stated, “Gov. Whitmer’s regional hub policy placed patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities and may have exacerbated the death toll in those facilities. Questions remain regarding the accuracy of data, compliance with CDC guidelines and compliance with our state’s Freedom of Information Act. There is a critical need for a full investigation into these matters.”
The Detroit News explained:
Whitmer’s administration created 21 regional hubs in April to help care for nursing homes residents with COVID-19. The hubs were existing nursing homes that were supposed to have the isolated space, equipment and personnel to care for those with COVID-19 who were being discharged from hospitals or resided in other facilities that couldn’t properly handle them.
But Republican lawmakers repeatedly called for the creation of entirely separate facilities to care for those with the coronavirus to stem its spread among a vulnerable population. Nearly half of the nursing homes that Michigan initially selected to serve as regional hubs to care for elderly individuals with COVID-19 had below-average quality ratings from the federal government.
On Monday, Nessel rejected the call for an investigation, writing, “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. 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.’”
“There is no information in your letter to distinguish your observations from anything more than good faith reporting errors — if errors at all,” she continued. “If reporting guidance from the state or federal governments has been confusing or incomplete, an investigation by the state’s top law enforcement official is not the appropriate remedial mechanism to improve policy in this regard.”
“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,” she stated.
She concluded, “I appreciate that you and your colleagues have policy disagreements with Governor Whitmer’s response to COVID-19. But an investigation by my office is not the mechanism to resolve those disagreements. You have provided insufficient indicia that any law has been violated and thus no investigation is warranted at this time.”
Runstead responded on Tuesday, indicating he might urge the appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue the investigation.
He asserted, “I think we’re going to have to do some things with the budget whether it’s funding a special prosecutor or we’re talking about a lot of different issues right now in terms of what we can do because the people of the State of Michigan need to have answers. … There are so many families that want to get to the bottom of the data, what happened with this decision to put COVID infected patients in with uninfected patients in a nursing home. Only five states did this and this was a disastrous policy.”
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