Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido made the astonishing claim on Monday as the state attorney general launched an investigation into fatalities at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Lucido said he’s been unable to get information about those deaths because of strict laws that shield patients’ health care details and urged Michigan residents whose loved ones died from the virus while living in care homes to seek out the information themselves.
It came as Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Charles LeDuff filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service (MDHHS), in which he alleged that the agency was hiding data about ‘possibly preventable deaths related to the State’s COVID-19 response’.
LeDuff said that he filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests pertaining to nursing home data in January, but all were denied.
Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido (right) on Tuesday claimed that Gov Gretchen Whitmer (left) could potentially face charges over her handling of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes
Lucido, a former Republican state senator, said that his office’s investigation of the issue has been limited because of privacy laws in an interview with Detroit TV station WXYZ.
But he said that criminal charges could be brought – potentially against Whitmer – if the probe finds evidence of wrongdoing.
‘If we find there’s been willful neglect of office, if we find there’s been reckless endangerment of a person’s life by bringing them in, then we would move forward with charges against the governor. Of course, we would. Nobody’s above the law in this state,’ he said.
Earlier this month state Republicans announced that they will hold hearings regarding allegations that Whitmer, a Democrat, used ‘hush money’ to buy the silence of three officials who may have been forced out of her administration amid the pandemic.
Steve Gray resigned as director of the Unemployment Insurance Agency in November after falling out of favor with Whitmer and received $85,872 in severance.
Robert Gordon, former director of the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned January 22 and received a $155,000 severance deal.
Sarah Esty, a deputy director of the MDHHS, also signed a separation agreement on January 29, a week after Gordon’s exit, in which she was placed on paid administrative leave until February 26, when she resigned.
Whitmer defended the unusually large severance deals on March 2 and denied that they constituted ‘hush money’.
‘I really bristle at that characterization. The nature of the separation agreement is that when someone leaves, there are terms to it and you cannot share every term to it. That’s simply what it is,’ the governor told WJBK.
She was forced to defend herself once again on Tuesday after Lucido spoke out about potential criminal charges.
In a statement to WXYZ, Whitmer’s office called the prosecutor’s comments ‘shameful political attacks based in neither fact or reality’.
The Michigan attorney general reportedly opened an investigation into COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes this month. Pictured: Members of City Impact, a faith-based organization from Cedar Springs, sing and pray for residents at Metron of Cedar Springs nursing home on April 1
The office also claimed that one of Lucido’s former Republican colleagues admitted they ‘have not seen any evidence or testimony that says that a nursing home was forced to take someone against their will’.
‘The administration’s policies carefully tracked CDC guidance on nursing homes, and we prioritized testing of nursing home residents and staff to save lives,’ the statement read.
‘Early in the pandemic, the state acted swiftly to create a network of regional hubs with isolation units and adequate PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within a facility.
‘In addition, we have offered 100 percent of nursing home resident priority access to the vaccine. Both the former head of AARP, as well as an independent U-M study, praised our work to save lives in nursing homes.’
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles LeDuff (pictured) filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service on Tuesday, in which he alleged that the agency was hiding data about ‘possibly preventable deaths related to the State’s COVID-19 response’
LeDuff first revealed his plan to sue MDHHS in an interview with Fox News last week, where he described how he’s spent months trying to get answers about virus-related deaths in nursing homes.
‘You can’t get them. I’ve been asking for months,’ he said.
He being represented in his lawsuit by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.
The complaint filed Tuesday accuses MDHHS of violating FOIA and asks the court to order the release of all the records LeDuff requested.
‘This case deals with a matter of tremendous public importance, namely, the need for transparency in connection with the State of Michigan’s COVID-19 response,’ the complaint states.
‘To date, while the State has published certain statistical information relating to COVID-19 deaths in Michigan, it has repeatedly refused to provide the records and information used to formulate the statistical data being provided.’
‘The need for transparency in this particular area has already been established, in another state, thanks to recent revelations that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration had intentionally withheld data from disclosure due to concerns about the resulting political fallout.
‘Recognizing significant similarities between the policies adopted by Governors Cuomo and Whitmer, Plaintiff filed a FOIA request … to determine whether the data reported by the state of Michigan was similarly inaccurate.’