Michigan’s Response to Pandemic Given Mixed Reviews – Government Technology

Michigan’s Response to Pandemic Given Mixed Reviews

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“Michigan agencies and departments demonstrated significant flexibility in adapting to the evolving crisis even as COVID-19 presented new challenges,” the draft report found.

Pandemic

Associated Press

(TNS) – Despite loud criticism, Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was overall “well-coordinated” across state government, according to the first draft of an independent report requested by state leadership.

“Michigan agencies and departments demonstrated significant flexibility in adapting to the evolving crisis even as COVID-19 presented new challenges,” the draft report found, in part, after studying state government actions between Jan. 1, 2020, and July 31, 2021.

MLive obtained the draft report, conducted by disaster preparedness firm Tidal Basin, via public records request.

Because it is not final or complete, Tidal Basin told MLive in a statement: “Conclusions about strengths or improvements would be premature.” The firm has more reviewing to do and plans to deliver a final version “by the end of the year.”

This report, intended for executive leadership like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and department directors, includes meetings with stakeholders, interviews, surveys and document analysis. The report team interviewed people in 24 state agencies and departments, plus the Red Cross.

It is critical, among other issues, of local and state coordination, and found insufficient people were trained in Michigan’s emergency processes.

Among the strengths in Michigan’s COVID-19 response were:

  • “Existing emergency plans, teams and experience positioned Michigan” to be prepared. Response planning began in  December 2019, months before the first case was confirmed.
  • State employees’ transition to remote work “was effective and did not significantly disrupt or delay” services. Public and internal communication also “was effective.”
  • Whitmer’s office involved public health officials and this meant “timely” managing of the outbreak, expanding of testing and tracking of new variants.

“We look forward to reviewing the final product to ensure the state is continually assessing its emergency preparedness capabilities,” Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy told MLive in a statement.

Leddy said Michigan has spent $1.3 million of federal COVID-19 emergency management funds on this report, with another $170,000 anticipated before it is final.

Where did Michigan leadership fall short?

Michigan’s government was not perfect in handling the worst public health crisis in 100 years. The draft report found the state’s emergency management systems did not live up to the pandemic’s complexity.

“State government did not effectively employ unified command,” it found, as not enough people were trained in Michigan’s emergency response system.

Regarding this preliminary finding, Tidal Basin told MLive: “Several data points, including ones associated with Unified Command, are still being received and analyzed.”

Michigan’s deputy director of emergency management, state police Capt.  Kevin Sweeney, pushed back on lack of unified command. He said in a statement that his team is working on responding to Tidal Basin’s draft so that it “adequately summarizes” Michigan’s response.

“The draft report included incomplete sections that did not account for final processes that were ultimately put into place, such as a chain of command,” Sweeney said.

There was “a very strong unified chain of command” across state departments, he added, “to make the best decisions guided by the data and science that was known at the time.”

The draft report also found, “Vertical coordination between state and local officials can be improved, as the timing of state policy and its impact on local implementation emerged as a source of tension.”

Other areas for improvement are:

  • Michigan’s existing influenza pandemic response plan “did not sufficiently address a pandemic with the severity, geographic reach and duration of COVID-19.”
  • The state had “limited remote work policies,” which did not live up to the new challenge of managing so many remote workers.
  • Underinvestment in state government technology initially prevented “efficient data analysis to inform policy and response decisions.”
  • A state spending freeze early in the pandemic, plus challenges in getting emergency funds to state agencies “complicated response efforts.”
  • In communications, “siloed decision-making” delayed some messages.

Sweeney said his division “will continue to update our emergency preparedness processes” to be ready for future crises.

The draft report recommends Michigan improve coordination across departments and implement policies to reflect new workplace dynamics. Other personnel, equipment and software investments are suggested to improve in-person, hybrid and virtual operations.

This report, which notes it is “unbiased” and “informational,” was commissioned last October. It also notes 84% of participating departments and agencies have or plan to do their own pandemic after-action report.

Analysis of specific departments and agencies

Michigan State Police had to enforce public health orders, and the draft report notes: “Some enforcement measures were unpopular” among citizens.

But it applauded the state police’s emergency management and homeland security division for providing COVID-19 updates to the public and tracking and allocating shipments of personal protective equipment, masks, face shields and other items used against biological hazards.

The draft notes Michigan’s emergency operations center usually manages events that last for weeks or months, and other incidents that happened during the pandemic – like “dam failures, extreme weather and civil unrest” – caused the emergency management and homeland security division to divert resources. The division was still “prepared” to handle these non-COVID responses.

The Department of Health and Human Services , which the draft report calls the “nexus” of Michigan’s response, was pushed “to the limit” to meet the needs of the once-in-a-generation health crisis.

The governor’s office was recognized for expanding its staff to meet the pandemic’s demands, promoting Michigan’s vaccination campaign and starting a task force to address racial health care disparities.

Whitmer’s office also enabled rapid decisions by instituting a unique incident command structure, known as “P-leads,” the draft report says.

The Department of State was recognized for keeping up its licensing program, like assisting private employers with commercial driver’s licenses and expediting state government vehicle needs to support the COVID response.

Other agencies and departments analyzed include education, labor, aging, veterans’ affairs, environment, agriculture and transportation.

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