LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Kim LaSata said Tuesday that she does not believe Elizabeth Hertel is fit to serve as the new director of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and that the Senate should vote to reject her appointment.
“Former DHHS Director Robert Gordon’s resignation was a necessary step in the right direction,” said LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township. “His tenure was stained with controversy and it was best that he left. Unfortunately, his replacement, Elizabeth Hertel, who was a top Gordon deputy, during recent committee testimony exhibited the aloofness of her predecessor.
“Hertel seemed out of touch and content with carrying forward the existing policies that have driven much of the Whitmer administration’s failing response to the coronavirus over the past year. At this critical time in our state’s history, the department needs a fresh start with an experienced leader. The Senate should disapprove Hertel’s appointment.”
Hertel recently appeared before the Senate Advice and Consent Committee concerning her appointment as DHHS director and was asked during the hearing what the biggest mistake the department had made over the past year in managing the pandemic. Hertel responded she was unsure and would have to review all the decisions that had been made, ultimately concluding that it would difficult for her to say what would have been a mistake or what could have been done differently. Pressed further, Hertel couldn’t identify any mistake or issue the department should have handled differently.
Hertel also echoed Gordon’s previous position concerning scientific data and metrics when asked by the committee what drives departmental decisions concerning the virus and public health orders. When asked specifically what threshold would indicate the state was no longer in a pandemic, Hertel cited no certain criteria. It was a response LaSata said demonstrates the department hasn’t changed.
“Hertel’s elusive and noncommittal responses to very specific questions proved to me DHHS remains, at best, an organization operating entirely in an echo chamber of yes-people,” LaSata said. “There doesn’t appear to be any critical thinking going on in the department. Decisions affecting tens of thousands of people are seemingly made haphazardly with no real long-term plans of seeing us through the pandemic or goals of reopening our state.
“The lack of communication, transparency and openness to constructive criticism were dangerous precedents set under Gordon’s leadership and we can’t afford to carry that forward with Hertel.”
LaSata said the department’s unresponsiveness is particularly problematic as she has been rebuffed multiple times by department officials when seeking answers about COVID-19 vaccine distribution and eligibility.
“Southwest Michiganders have been waiting over a month for promised responses from DHHS concerning the COVID-19 vaccine priority status of parents and caregivers of vulnerable children,” LaSata said. “Likewise, despite promises of an official response, the department has thus far failed to answer questions about insufficient vaccine distribution within the 21st Senate District.”
Hertel was named Gordon’s successor the day he resigned, Jan. 22. Her appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, which has until March 23 to consider disapproval.