Michigan's attorney general is refusing a request from eight GOP state senators to investigate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 nursing home policies, saying she won't use her office to "launch a political attack."
"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," Attorney General Dana Nessel said, reports ABC affiliate WJRT in Flint, Michigan. Both Nessel and Whitmer are Democrats.
The request was made by GOP state senators Jim Runestad, Tom Barrett, Ruth Johnson, Kim LaSata, Roger Victory, Lana Thies, Dale Zorn, and Curtis VanderWall, who had signed a letter, dated Feb. 23, which said they are concerned about the governor's policies that allowed patients with confirmed cases of the virus to be treated in nursing homes rather than hospitals.
In their letter, the senators also said they are concerned about compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, COVID-19 data reporting, and the potential for violations of the Freedom of Information Act, but Nesser said there is no evidence that Whitmer's office had acted improperly, reports WJRT.
"I appreciate that you and your colleagues have policy disagreements with Governor Whitmer’s response to COVID-19," Nessel also said in her response. "But an investigation by my office is not the mechanism to resolve those disagreements."
The lawmakers and other critics of the governor are pointing at a policy that when the pandemic started required that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients leaving hospitals to return to the facilities even if they were still contagious, reports The Detroit Free Press. The nursing homes had been directed to house the patients in places that were separate from healthy residents.
The policy was similar to that in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo's policy requiring nursing homes to accept COVID patients has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of senior citizens.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, about 15,700 people have died in Michigan of COVID-19. Of that number, 5,537 were residents of long-term care facilities, including 4,117 nursing home residents.
Runestad, R-White Lake, called Nessel's decision an "abdication of responsibility" and an "insult to every family member who lost a loved one to COVID-19 in a nursing home."
"Upholding the law shouldn’t be about Republicans versus Democrats," he told The Free Press. "It should be about making the right choice, holding public officials accountable, and standing up for the most vulnerable and their families."
Nessel said the senators did not provide evidence supporting their allegations, and that her office could not investigate whether decisions that were made to contain the spread of COVID-19 meant they were bad public policy, but instead is limited to investigating criminal allegations.
The senators also mentioned Cuomo's staff and reports that the numbers of nursing home deaths in New York related to COVID-19 were underreported, but Nesser responded that she isn't aware of evidence of similar acts in Whitmer's administration and that the senators didn't provide proof of that happening.
Nesser noted that Whitmer's office had responded to a U.S. Department of Justice request for nursing home information, and that it was provided, and that in her opinion, the facts were correctly reported.
Meanwhile, Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan, which represents Michigan's long-term healthcare providers and questioned the requirement, said Whitmer's executive order was never fully implemented, reports The Free Press.
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