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Embattled Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s top medical adviser downplayed the COVID-19 nursing home deaths that have scandalized the governor’s administration.
Michigan’s chief medical executive Natasha Bagdasarian, who joined the Whitmer administration after the scandal broke, said the two-year pandemic has illustrated that “tough choices have to be made.”
“It’s difficult for me to comment on things that occurred before I was both working at the state and, actually, before I was even in Michigan,” Bagdasarian said. “However, I can say that, during the pandemic, what we’ve really seen is that tough decisions have to be made, sometimes with very little notice as we learn new information and as the virus changes.”
WHITMER ADMIN SIGNIFICANTLY UNDERCOUNTED MICHIGAN NURSING HOME COVID DEATHS, STATE AUDITOR FINDS
“So, this whole pandemic has just been an opportunity to learn and to be as agile and nimble as possible,” she continued. “And it’s difficult, I think, to second-guess some of those decisions that were made early on in the pandemic when, again, we were still learning about the virus and learning about how it behaved in certain settings.”
Typically, the immune systems of the elderly are not as effective as those of younger people, meaning that highly infectious diseases like COVID-19 are more likely to spread among older populations.
Gustavo Portela, communications director of the Michigan GOP, told Fox News Digital it is “despicable that the Whitmer administration’s chief medical executive is defending the actions taken by Gretchen Whitmer that placed COVID positive patients in nursing homes, endangering some of the most vulnerable to this virus.”
“This strategy was responsible for the deaths of vulnerable nursing home and long-term care residents – deaths which we now know were undercounted by more than 40%,” Portela continued in his Tuesday email statement. “The Whitmer administration has blood on its hands and should be investigated for gross negligence.”
When asked if Bagdasarian stood by her comments, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) sent Fox News Digital the department’s statement on the damning state audit that revealed the Whitmer administration undercounted COVID-19 nursing home deaths.
“We are concerned the report will be misinterpreted to question the work and integrity of long-term care facilities, local health departments, coroners and other frontline workers who we rely on to report data,” the department statement said. “Throughout the pandemic MDHHS has clearly stated what would be included in our COVID-19 long-term care facility death data. We were upfront and clear about what deaths were and were not included in our count.
“The OAG has chosen to use a different definition of a long-term care death than MDHHS is using based on federal requirements,” the statement continues. “The analysis combines COVID-19 deaths in facilities that were required to report and those that were not required to report, creating the impression of a larger undercount by long-term care facilities than is warranted.”
“We feel this review and its findings are doing a great disservice to Michigan residents, especially those who have family members residing in long-term care facilities,” the statement added.
The state auditor’s damning report was leaked last week, showing Whitmer’s administration undercounted the COVID-19 deaths in the state’s long-term care facilities by 30%.
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The report, which was officially released on Monday, is likely to renew criticism of the Democratic governor’s performance during the pandemic and her COVID-19 nursing home policy compared to that of disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Whitmer created 21 hubs in existing nursing homes that were intended to have room for isolation and specialty equipment for elderly groups discharged from the hospital, The Detroit News reported.
But state Republicans wanted separate isolation units designated for elderly populations recovering from COVID-19, in order to prevent other nursing home residents from contracting the virus.