Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) has declined a request by congressional Republicans to turn over records and brief committee staffers on the state’s handling of COVID-19 in Michigan’s nursing homes.
As reported by The Detroit News, Governor Whitmer indicated to Republicans on a U.S. House coronavirus committee that she wouldn’t cooperate with their inquiry, saying the panel’s investigatory authority does not lie with individual members and the committee’s jurisdiction cannot be “stretched” to include the health and safety of a state and its residents. “I hope that as members of a federal body tasked with oversight of the federal executive branch during this unprecedented public health crisis you refrain from encroaching on the sovereign power of a state government to deal with state matters,” Whitmer wrote in a letter dated Friday.
Through Sunday, at least 1,979 nursing home residents in Michigan had died of COVID-19, representing a third of confirmed virus deaths in the state. Health officials have reported 7,137 known cases of COVID-19 among nursing facility residents and 3,100 cases among staff.
An initial executive order from Governor Whitmer in April indicated that nursing homes with a census below 80% had to create a unit dedicated to the care of COVID-19-affected residents, and that facilities “must accept the return” of a resident who had been hospitalized if it could meet the medical needs of the resident, the order said.
Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan, has said that subsequent guidance and orders from the state gave facilities “flexibility” to decide whether to take an individual with COVID-19 based on whether they had the staff, equipment, and isolation space necessary to care for virus patients. Whitmer’s administration declined an earlier recommendation by Samuel that empty facilities be used as quarantine centers to “avoid widespread infection.”
The Republicans are in the minority in the House and therefore lack the power to compel testimony or documents from the Democratic governor without support from the rest of the committee. The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), recently wrote to Whitmer and four other Democratic governors about their states’ handling of virus cases in nursing homes. Led by Scalise, committee Republicans wrote in their June 15 letter that Whitmer’s nursing home policies likely contributed to “thousands of elderly deaths in Michigan.”
On Monday, Scalise blasted Whitmer for refusing to cooperate with the inquiry and blamed Democrats on the panel for not demanding answers. “We will continue to call on our Democrat colleagues to join us in getting to the bottom of this and look for other ways to obtain the information being withheld,” Scalise said in a statement. “Her stonewalling will not deter us from getting the answers these families deserve.”