The U.S. Justice Department announced that it has requested COVID-19 data from the governors of states that issued orders that might have resulted in the deaths of nursing home residents.
Letters were sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo here in New York, as well as to the governors of New Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
The memo released by the Justice Department refers to the controversial March 25 directive issued by the New York State Health Department that said, “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. [Nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
This guidance allowed for coronavirus-positive nursing home residents in New York to be released from the hospital and admitted back into nursing homes. It was not reversed until April 29.
Later in July, the New York Health Department issued its own report and said that the March 25 directive was not responsible for the more than 6,000 nursing home resident deaths, but rather it was asymptomatic staff that brought in the virus.
However, asymptomatic staff were allowed to continue to work in nursing homes until late April.
Cuomo has also repeatedly pointed to the CDC for first issuing the guidance that would allow for COVID-19 patients to be admitted into nursing homes.
“Protecting the rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members, including elderly nursing home residents, is one of our country’s most important obligations,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
The Justice Department memo also states that New York has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., with 32,592 victims, many of who were elderly, according to the CDC.
The state Legislature held a hearing earlier this month, looking at nursing home resident deaths. But despite repeated questioning, the Health Department still has not been able to give the exact number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19.
The Justice Department is only seeking data regarding COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents in state run facilities. There are only a handful of these facilities in New York.
The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will be evaluating whether to initiate investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA). This act protects the civil rights of state-run nursing home residents among others. It will be seeking to determine if the state’s order allowing for COVID-19 positive residents to be admitted into nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a joint statement in response,
“This is nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention. It’s no coincidence the moment the Trump administration is caught weakening the CDC’s COVID-19 testing guidelines to artificially lower the number of positive cases, they launched this nakedly partisan deflection. At least 14 states – including Kentucky, Utah and Arizona – have issued similar nursing guidance all based on federal guidelines – and yet the four states listed in the DOJ’s request have a Democratic governor. DOJ should send a letter to CMS and CDC since the State’s advisories were modeled after their guidance.”