The column originally appeared in The Detroit News.


It would be hard to choose any other word to describe Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision in April of 2020 to bring patients with COVID-19 into the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities where Michigan’s oldest, sickest and most physically frail residents get their treatment and spend their lives.

It turns out the governor’s move may have been even more deadly than we knew.

Earlier this week, Michigan’s independent, non-partisan auditor general released the results of its investigation into COVID-related deaths in Michigan’s nursing homes. Astoundingly, they found the Whitmer administration had under-reported nursing home deaths by a staggering 42%.

Whitmer’s administration claimed 5,675 of the state’s most vulnerable residents lost their lives. According to the bombshell report, that number is 8,061.

In perhaps the worst-quality spin in the state’s entire political history, Whitmer’s team counters that their numbers weren’t wrong — it’s just that they weren’t counting everyone who died in nursing homes or after contracting the virus in nursing homes.

They blast the auditor general for including nursing home deaths in their tally of nursing home deaths as if the inclusion of nursing home deaths in the nursing home death tally will hurt the governor politically.

Only this governor could take a cataclysmic tragedy and complain that it makes her look bad.

Make no mistake, though — this was a policy-driven crisis and much of it was avoidable.

We didn’t know everything about COVID-19 that first spring of the pandemic, but there was plenty we did know. We knew the coronavirus was a highly contagious, airborne, respiratory virus.

We knew it spread quickly indoors.

We knew seniors and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions were the most susceptible to the virus. Whitmer knew it, too.

What thinking person would quarantine any person with a contagious virus — let alone COVID-19 — in a nursing home with elderly residents? And what thinking person would do this after our nation watched the deaths pile up in early 2020 at a nursing home in Washington?

None of that stopped the governor from breaking with most other states to engineer a policy that could expose our most vulnerable family members to a virus.

Instead, she sided with disgraced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and a small handful of partisan Democrat, activist governors who thought they knew best.

They didn’t. People died.

Democrats in the Michigan Legislature warned the governor to keep COVID-19 from nursing homes. One prominent Detroit Democrat called the plan “the most idiotic thing we could come up with.” 

Families of those cared for in the facilities implored the governor to protect their loved ones. The president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan even reached out to the governor personally, begging her to keep sick patients out of nursing homes to “avoid widespread infection.”

The U.S. Department of Justice began asking questions. They began discussing potential violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Whitmer didn’t listen. When the body count started rising, she finally worried. Then she stopped counting. Then her administration hid the data. Then she stopped holding press conferences.

Freedom of Information Act requests were denied. Data was redacted. Questions were unanswered. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist sued the state. An independent auditor general investigated.

Finally, families are getting heartbreaking answers.

More than 8,000 of the state’s most at-risk residents lost their lives in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Gretchen Whitmer is pretending to this day that it didn’t happen.

It leaves a pit in the stomach and a question on the lips. What else isn’t the governor telling us? Why can’t we trust her?

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.