Auditors: 2 more months needed on health agency probe

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — State auditors told Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday they need about two more months to complete an investigation of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ role in Flint’s water crisis.

State Auditor General Doug Ringler and DHHS Inspector General Alan Kimichik sent Snyder a letter Wednesday saying they could not complete the investigation the governor asked for by Monday.

“Due to the magnitude of this investigation, a final report will not be available by May 16,” Ringler and Kimichik said in the letter to Snyder. “Also, in order to maintain the integrity of the ongoing investigation, we are unable to release any preliminary findings at this time.”

Ringler and Kimichik said they anticipate the investigation to be complete by “early July.”

On March 11, Snyder called for the auditor general and Health Department’s inspector general to examine how the agency responded to elevated lead levels in Flint residents and a possible connection between a spike in deadly Legionnaires’ disease cases and Flint’s April 2014 switch to river water.

Flint’s use of river water without adding corrosion-controlling chemicals is blamed for toxic lead leaching from old pipes and into the city’s drinking water supply at an untold number of homes.

The Department of Health and Human Services in September initially downplayed independent research suggesting a rise in lead exposure among Flint children, a finding it would later confirm on or about Oct. 1, prompting the Snyder administration to help Flint switch back to Detroit’s water supply two weeks later.

The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in the Flint area is linked to 12 deaths and sickened 79 other people during two waves from June 2014 to March 2015 and May 2015 through October 2015. Health officials have not been able to conclusively link the Flint River water as the source of the legionella bacteria outbreak, but they also haven’t ruled out the different water source as the cause.

The Detroit News first reported in February that a state health official delayed public notification of Legionnaires’ cases by issuing a June 2015 internal report declaring the outbreak “over,” an assertion Genesee County health officials fought privately for months.

Seven more people died from Legionnaires’ disease among 46 confirmed cases between May and October 2015, after the outbreak was declared over.

Nick Lyon, state Health Department director, has acknowledged knowing about a Genesee County investigation of the spike in Legionnaires in January 2015 — a year before the outbreak was first made public by Snyder on Jan. 13. The governor has said he learned about the outbreak two days prior from Lyon.

No employees have been disciplined for not alerting the public, Lyon said.

“We’re going to see what that depicts and go from there,” Lyon told a legislative committee.

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.