Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon testified before a State Senate Oversight Committee on Wednesday that he does not know how many of the state’s more than 5,000 COVID-19 deaths are from nursing homes, but believes they account for more than 23 percent of those deaths “at this stage.”
“I will tell you in candor the data we have remain incomplete. We will be working over the coming days and weeks to fill in these gaps as fast as we possibly can, and we will keep both the committee and the public apprised of our progress,” Gordon told the committee.
In one slide of preliminary data he referred to as a “work-in-progress,” Gordon said that with 87 percent of nursing home facilities reporting, there were 1,216 COVID-19 nursing home deaths in the state.
“We’re going to find out about more deaths,” Gordon added later in his testimony, noting that in three counties that collect COVID-19 data independent of the state’s reporting system (Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County), “more than 400 deaths” are reported in the county systems that are not reported in the state system.
As Breitbart News reported earlier this week, Michigan is the only one of the 19 states with more than 900 COVID-19 deaths that does not know how many of those deaths are from nursing homes. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation notes that 37 states currently report that data. In those 37 states, nursing homes account for 42 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.
Gordon, who has no prior public health management experience listed on his resume, worked as a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration and was previously at the Department of Education and the College Board. A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, he was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Detroit News reported on Gordon’s lack of relevant public health experience when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, appointed him to head up the MDHHS in January 2019:
Gordon’s resume does not include direct experience in public health, but he once worked as a law guardian for foster care children. Whitmer’s office said he has been described as a “quarterback” for the Obama administration’s “evidence-based policy-making initiatives, which closely tied program funding to quality evaluation.”
Gordon is known as an education and labor expert who also worked as a policy adviser to former Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards during their respective Democratic presidential runs in 2003 and 2004, according to the Washington Post. He also previously worked as a guest scholar for the Brookings Institution and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg early in his career.
At Wednesday’s committee hearing, State Senator Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township) pressed Director Gordon on Michigan’s failure to provide timely nursing home COVID-19 death data, since 37 other states have been able to provide that data for some time.
“Could you help us understand why other states were able to have so much more data on these particular questions so much sooner than Michigan? ” McBroom asked.
“What has set us behind? Especially, to my understanding, looking in to all this, a lot of these data points were regular reporting that the federal government required anyway, so why was Michigan an outlier in timeliness?” McBroom continued.
“Senator, I don’t know about other states’ conditions,” Gordon admitted.
“I can tell you some factors that have slowed the response for us. One is our staff are stretched incredibly thin,” he continued.
Gordon then appeared to suggest Gov. Whitmer and previous governors were in part responsible for the problems with reporting due to inadequate budgets.
“These are not programs that have been robustly funded, internally within the administration for a long time,” Gordon added.
You can watch Director Gordon’s testimony, which begins at about 1:10 mark of Wednesday’s hearings, below:
Here is a partial transcript of Gordon’s testimony about the reporting of data, beginning at the 1:13 mark:
I’d like to talk about the reporting of data. We previously shared our challenges around data quality
Facilities have faced reporting requirements from different entities, state and federal, and in order to address the disparities between definitions, MDHHS made the decision to roll out new reporting requirements that align with CDC and CMS requirements for skilled nursing facilities.
We are confident this new direction will greatly improve the accuracy and timeliness of our data.
Last Friday MDHHS launched the new reporting structure for skilled nursing facilities ahead of a long weekend.
In our last hearing I said to you the data we had were imperfect, but we were in a better position then than we had been two weeks prior, and we would be in a better position two weeks later, which is today. That has proven true, and I will share the data we currently have.
Transparency and accuracy remain our highest priority, and I will tell you in candor the data we have remain incomplete. We will be working over the coming days and weeks to fill in these gaps as fast as we possibly can, and we will keep both the committee and the public apprised of our progress.
I will try to share a slide that has the work-in-progress data.
I just want to be clear this is preliminary data. This is not completed. This is not final. The total number of facilities that we show, nursing home facilities subject to reporting, is 499. . .
The number that have presently reported is 434, so that’s 87 percent of facilities reporting. The number of cases currently being reported by those 87 percent — and these are cumulative numbers. . .–currently 4,920 is being reported, that’s 9 percent of cases [in Michigan]. That number will rise to be clear.
And the total number of COVID-19 related deaths being reported [in nursing home facilities] . . . that number is 1,216. At this stage, that is 23 percent of [Michigan COVID-19] deaths.
As I said, these numbers are not complete. There’s only 87 percent of facilities reporting.
I just want to share one more slide.
About close to 80 percent of [COVID-19] deaths in Michigan are in three counties, and those are the counties here [Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne].
The percentage of those facilities currently reporting based on our research data is showing on this slide.
We have almost all the facilities from Macomb County [97 percent], somewhat fewer in Oakland [89 percent], and somewhat fewer in Wayne [73 percent].
You can see at the bottom, those counties themselves collect death data. Not every county in Michigan does, but they do. So we were able to do a check between the data that we have, and the data that they report on their web page.
There’s two things I want to highlight about this.
One is that you can see is that Macomb County, with the highest share of state reporting . . . has almost matched data [277 locally reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths vs 271 state reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths.]
Then down to Oakland County [421 locally reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths vs 328 state reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths.]
Then down to Wayne County, where there is a very large gap [674 locally reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths vs 367 state reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths.]
That tells us we’re going to find out about more deaths. There’s about 400 deaths… more than 400 deaths that are the difference between those two numbers. Those will be added and there will be others
Adding the three counties–Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne–together, there are 1,372 locally reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths vs 945 state reported cumulative COVID-19 nursing home deaths, or 427 locally reported deaths that are not included in the current state data,
The minimum number of COVID-19 nursing home deaths in Michigan, as of May 26, total 1,643, or 30 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state, not 1,216, the preliminary number mentioned by Gordon in his first slide at Wednesday’s hearings.