By Jon King /

Two local health care leaders recently sent a letter to the Chair of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners expressing disappointment about efforts to turn down COVID-19 funding for the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD).

The September 3rd letter is signed by John O'Malley, the President of the St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital & Brighton Health Center and by Dr. David Miller, the President of the University of Michigan Health System and Executive Vice Dean for Clinical Affairs at the U-M Medical School. In it, they point out to Board Chair Wes Nakagiri that the more than $1.5 million from the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services “would have provided for critical resources for the Livingston County Health Department's COVID 19 response efforts,” and that without it several grant-funded positions would be eliminated including nurses and epidemiologists.

At a Finance Committee meeting last month, a 4-4 deadlock essentially rejected the agreement. Nakagiri was among those opposed to the funding, which he likened to “government overreach” and said he didn’t feel was needed. "If we turn this money down, am I preventing someone from getting a vaccine? I'm concluding no. That is my conclusion and from that standpoint, I am going to vote against taking the money."

Both O’Malley and Dr. Miller stated that their health systems “have worked hand in hand over the last 18 months with local public health departments across the state to address the challenges posed by this pandemic” and that the partnership allowed them to jointly address the challenges of the pandemic in Livingston County, “ensuring that residents of the county have access to critical resources in our collective effort to control the virus and mitigate its further spread in the county.”

They went on to note that Michigan is now in the fourth surge of the virus and they are continuing to see an increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations. “Having recently surpassed a statewide daily census of more than 1,000 individuals hospitalized in our state, we are concerned about the potential for the situation to worsen and impact our ability to care for both Covid and Non – Covid patients in our hospitals this Fall.”

They added that they were especially concerned about the health and safety of the most vulnerable populations in the county including the elderly, those with co-existing medical conditions, children who are not yet vaccinated, and frontline healthcare workers. “In many cases, these individuals are not able to physically access these services at the Livingston County Health Department because of transportation barriers, and subsequently Health Department staff use some of this critical funding to deliver services to them in their homes and/or in their local communities.”

In the backlash that followed the initial rejection, a new resolution was put forward to accept the funds but make explicit that they cannot be used to institute a county-wide mask mandate, vaccinate minors without the express written consent of a parent or guardian nor institute a county-wide vaccine mandate.

Some saw the resolution’s wording as a de facto prohibition against LCHD Director Dianne McCormick issuing a mask mandate for local schools, whether she used the state funding or not. That's despite the fact that every county that surrounds Livingston has issued some sort of mask mandate for schools. In response to the new resolution, LESA Superintendent Mike Hubert told WHMI, "The establishment of ultimatums with the extent of unknowns brought on by this pandemic contributes little (to in-person instruction). In my opinion circumstances may warrant the implementation of mask requirements, at times, and I would not want our options limited when it comes to making those decisions our state leaders have cowardly avoided.”

The new resolution passed through the first hurdle last week, but still needs approval from the Finance Committee and then the full board.

In the meantime, a rally is planned this weekend in front of the LCHD by several groups adamantly opposed to the county accepting the funding. The Back Off Our Kids Rally will be held Sunday from 1-4pm by Moms for Liberty Livingston County and Guardians of Freedom Michigan. Organizers say the purpose of the gathering “is to demand no compromise when it comes to the medical liberties of our kids. There are groups in the county working very hard to force unnecessary and dangerous masking of our kids. These same groups are pushing for the commissioners to accept the $1.5 million Covid bribe.” According to a Facebook post by the group, they are not only opposed to masks in schools, but also COVID testing and quarantines.