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Michigan department sued over refusal to share virus records

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services logo

The Michigan health department is being sued over its refusal to release more information about COVID-19 deaths tied to nursing homes.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which often takes aggressive action to get public records, filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Detroit journalist Charlie LeDuff, who is seeking ages, dates of death and whether the person became ill at a long-term care facility.

The health department told LeDuff that the information is exempt under the state’s public records law.

“Not only does the public have the right to know this information, we have the need to know. ... If we’re going to fix end-of-life care moving forward, it’s going to require a hard look at how the state’s policies treated our most vulnerable population,” said LeDuff, who was on a 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team at The New York Times.

LeDuff said he is not seeking the names of the deceased so privacy concerns shouldn’t be raised as a defense by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

The health department generally doesn’t comment on lawsuits, spokesman Bob Wheaton said Wednesday.

The legal group noted that the state sells death certificates that contain more information than is being requested by LeDuff.