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On Wednesday, the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the data requests from Governors of States that issued COVID-19 orders that may have resulted in deaths of elderly nursing home residents.

According to the press release, “[The] data will help inform whether the Department of Justice will initiate investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) regarding New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan’s response to COVID-19 in public nursing homes.

Governors, Tom Wolfe (PA), Phil Murphy (NJ), Gretchen Whitmer (MI)

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing. The announcement gave an example of the situations that occurred earlier in the year- “on March 25, 2020, New York ordered: ‘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’.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband made the following statement, “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. We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is evaluating whether to initiate investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA), which protects the civil rights of persons in state-run nursing homes, among others. The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is the cause of the deaths of nursing home residents.

The press released continued, “According to the Centers for Disease Control, New York has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, with 32,592 victims, many of them elderly. New York’s death rate by population is the second-highest in the country with 1,680 deaths per million people. New Jersey’s death rate by population is 1,733 deaths per million people – the highest in the nation. In contrast, Texas’s death rate by population is 380 deaths per million people; and Texas has just over 11,000 deaths, though its population is 50 percent larger than New York and has many more recorded cases of COVID-19 – 577,537 cases in Texas versus 430,885 cases in New York. Florida’s COVID-19 death rate is 480 deaths per million; with total deaths of 10,325 and a population slightly larger than New York.”

Syracuse.com reported that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said his office was reviewing the request. Spokespeople for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the fact that all the states are led by Democrats and the timing of the move — in the midst of the Republican National Convention — spoke volumes about the political nature of the inquiry. Americans would all be better served if the Trump administration stopped the partisan games and focused on delivering a real plan to defeat COVID-19,” said Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown.

Minority Whip Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) called Wednesday’s announcement, “the right step toward holding Governor Cuomo and other Democratic governors accountable for issuing deadly ‘must admit’ orders at nursing homes.”

Scalise continued, “These orders resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of nursing home patients,” he said. “Our nation’s seniors and their loved ones deserve better. Grieving families affected by these orders must have answers about these terrible decisions that cost them their loved ones’ lives, and governors must be held responsible for their actions.”

AMDA, The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine warned at the time that Cuomo’s March 25 order posed a “clear and present danger.”

Our concern was we were making decisions in a very hasty way when the hospitals were overcapacity,” Alex Bardakh, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for AMDA, said Wednesday. “Decisions were being made so quickly that they weren’t considering ramifications.”

The DOJ is also investigating the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where COVID-19 has taken the lives of at least 76 residents.