Cherry Health admits ‘good faith mistakes’ in CBS debacle

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cherry Health is admitting that staffers were involved in a testing line for the purposes of a CBS News report that aired on national television last week.

Cherry Health came under fire this week after a Project Veritas hidden camera exposé purported that video of lines for Cherry’s COVID-19 test site was staged with employees to make the site look busier than it was. The report segments filmed in Grand Rapids aired on “CBS This Morning” May 1.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Cherry Health CEO Tasha Blackmon admitted that mistakes were made.

“After conducting an internal investigation, we learned that a few staff were encouraged to pull their cars up in the testing line to provide a visual backdrop showing how busy the testing site can get,” Blackmon said in the written statement. “This was done with the intention of protecting patient privacy since many of the patients scheduled for a COVID-19 test on that day declined to be filmed for HIPAA reasons. The individual responsible for this mistake has accepted responsibility and expressed deep remorse for this unfortunate situation.”

There was real testing going on while CBS News was filming and staffers were mixed in with real patients, Blackmon told News 8. Because several patients opted not to be shown, the employee who got staff to get in line feared the clinic wouldn’t look as though it was getting traffic. Blackmon stressed that none of the employees who got in the line were actually tested and said no testing supplies were wasted.

Blackmon would not discuss publicly whether any employees involved were disciplined. She confirmed that neither she nor the CBS News crew was aware of the spur-of-the-moment decision to add staff to the line that was made by a Cherry Health employee.

Since the incident was reported by Project Veritas, the story has taken on a life of its own. It has been shared ad nauseam online and used as confirmation by those who believe the coronavirus crisis is being overblown.

Blackmon criticized how the situation has been reported by some outlets.

“While good faith mistakes were made to protect patient privacy, the manner in which this situation is being portrayed is unfair and inaccurate,” Blackmon said. “Maintaining our integrity as a trusted organization that provides quality care to the underserved people of our communities is our top priority. We are saddened that this has been called into question, but have every confidence that the truth will prevail.

“The real story here is that our heroic staff have been risking their lives fighting COVID-19 on the front lines,” she added to News 8.

It’s still not clear to Cherry Health who was filming the undercover video used in the Project Veritas report. Blackmon said an initial investigation indicates that it may have been a contractor who was removed from his assignment after the CBS News visit by the company he worked for.

Cherry Health’s board president Scott Afree said the board will evaluate the matter.

“The board will still provide its complete oversight of the entire situation and then take appropriate internal and external action resulting from that oversight,” he told News 8 Thursday evening.