DOJ Looking Into COVID-19 Deaths in Pa. Nursing Homes

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(The Center Square) – Four Democratic governors, including Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, received letters Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Justice requesting data on deaths and other impacts from COVID-19 in public nursing homes in their states.

The letters, which were also sent to New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, say the department’s Civil Rights Division is considering whether to conduct an investigation on nursing homes operated by the state or a local government.

“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,” Eric Dreiband, the assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”

In making those determinations, the DOJ is asking the states for the number of people those nursing homes admitted from a hospital or other medical facility after they tested positive for COVID-19. Federal authorities also want to know how many residents, employees and visitors of public nursing homes came down with the virus–regardless of where they contracted the virus–and how many of those individuals died, including those who died in a facility after being transferred.

They also want the guidelines the states gave the nursing homes on admitting residents, including those that are no longer in effect, and they want to know how long those mandates were in place.

Justice Department authorities said they want the information within 14 days.

“We have not reached any conclusions about this matter,” Dreiband wrote to the governors.

Cuomo and Whitmer, in a joint statement Monday evening, assailed the request as “transparent politicization.”

“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,” they wrote. “DOJ should send a letter to CMS and CDC since the states’ advisories were modeled after their guidance.”

New York, in particular, has been criticized for requiring nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients into their facilities. That order took effect March 25 as state officials tried to make room in hospitals for the growing number of coronavirus patients.

In the two weeks after the order took effect, the number of COVID-19 deaths increased significantly, from 100 on March 25 to 799 on April 8.

While other states have since surpassed New York in the number of COVID-19 cases they have reported, the 32,921 deaths in New York by far outpace other states according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine data. As the DOJ notes in a news release Wednesday, Texas and Florida have reported 380 and 480 deaths per million, respectively, compared to New York’s 1,680.

New York officials released a report indicating that the deaths that happened in nursing homes happened because workers and visitors brought the virus into those facilities before the order took effect. However, state and federal lawmakers have been skeptical of that report and the information state officials have turned over.

The Center Square fills a growing need for publicly available statehouse and statewide news across the United States. Staffed by professional journalists who engage readers with essential news, data and analysis, The Center Square-Pennsylvania was previously known as Pennsylvania Watchdog and PA Independent.

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