VanderWall Detroit Free Press op-ed: Michigan needs to investigate its own nursing home tragedy

By Sen. Curt VanderWall
35th Senate District

An aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently made a startling admission: The administration had purposely withheld data about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

The admission came after an investigation by the state’s attorney general found Cuomo’s team had undercounted the number of deaths in nursing facilities by more than 50%.

Cuomo was one of five governors nationally who made the tragic decision to expose nursing home residents to COVID-19. Gov. Whitmer was another — despite warnings from experts in the first days of the pandemic.

In New York, efforts to get answers for the thousands of families who lost their loved ones have been bipartisan. The Democrat attorney general’s investigation resulted in an outpouring of frustration and questions from legislators on both sides of the aisle, some of whom are planning to subpoena records and others who are even calling for the governor’s resignation.

But sadly, it’s a different story here in Michigan. Instead of following the lead of her counterpart in New York, Attorney General Dana Nessel flatly refused to investigate Gov. Whitmer’s decision. And unlike their colleagues in the New York Senate and State Assembly, Michigan House and Senate Democrats have remained silent.

What could be gained by a full investigation with bipartisan backing? In New York, mere days after the attorney general’s report was issued, Gov. Cuomo’s administration revised the number of nursing home deaths due to the virus from 8,500 up to 15,000. That’s 6,500 New York families who learned the truth about the loss of their loved ones.

Even so, it appears federal authorities are not satisfied with the results of New York’s investigation. The FBI and federal prosecutors have opened their own investigation into Gov. Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, focusing on the governor’s handling of nursing homes.

Is that what it will take here in Michigan for families to get answers as to how and why they lost their parent or grandparent in what was supposed to be a safe environment?

State Democrats must decide people are more important than party. Even then, federal authorities might need to step in to secure justice for so many grieving Michigan families.

This op-ed appeared in the Feb. 25, 2021 edition of the Detroit Free Press. Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Policy and Human Services. He serves the residents of the 35th Senate District, representing the counties of Benzie, Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Ogemaw, Osceola, Roscommon and Wexford. He can be reached at 517-373-1725 or [email protected].