Johnson calls on Senate to disapprove Hertel as health director

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Ruth Johnson on Tuesday said she would support the Michigan Senate taking action to disapprove the appointment of the state’s new health director, Elizabeth Hertel.

“I was hopeful and open-minded about this appointment; we were getting indications that this was someone who would be more transparent with the Legislature and the public,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “But after reviewing last week’s hearing, I do not believe that is the case.”

Johnson was referring to a Senate committee hearing on Hertel’s appointment last week that underwhelmed many Republicans in the Legislature.

Hertel, who has worked as a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services prior to her appointment as director, was asked what the biggest mistake the department had made over the past year in managing the pandemic. Hertel paused and then responded she was unsure and would have to review all of the decisions that had been made, ultimately concluding that “it’s difficult for me to say what would have been a mistake or what we could have done differently.” When pressed on this question, Hertel was unable to identify any particular mistake or issue the department should have handled differently.

“It’s arrogant,” Johnson said. “When you look at what happened in our state’s nursing homes, it’s tragic. To sit there and say there is nothing you could have done even a little bit better to me is unconscionable. I want someone who can recognize their mistakes and learn from them.”

When Hertel was asked about the metrics her department is using to make decisions and when they would indicate the state is out of a pandemic, she answered that there were no specific criteria to make this determination in her view.

“I don’t believe (there) is a way to put a threshold number that says here’s yes and here’s no,” Hertel said. “If I were to say to you for example we would be out of a pandemic when we get to two cases per million, why would it be two cases per million, why is it not three, why is it not one? It’s hard to say; there’s a range.”

“There is zero transparency,” Johnson said. “Decisions are being made in a vacuum. The people of Michigan deserve honesty. The public has a right to know how decisions are being made that affect their lives and their livelihoods.”

According to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, when restaurants in the state were closed last November, Michigan was the only state in the country doing so without a data-driven matrix guiding the decision. Over 3,000 restaurants in the state have already closed permanently, while Michigan’s unemployment rate is currently the 39th in the nation.

Hertel was appointed to replace former Director Robert Gordon who resigned abruptly on Jan. 22. The governor has repeatedly refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding Gordon’s departure. Hertel’s appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, which has until March 23 to consider disapproval.

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Editor’s note: To see a video of Hertel’s committee testimony, visit https://misenate.viebit.com/player.php?hash=TXh50w1xamPl