The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Wednesday it is requesting data from the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey on COVID-19-related orders that may have resulted in the deaths of thousands elderly nursing home residents.
Letters were sent to Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Cuomo, namely, has come under fire from Republicans over how his state handled nursing homes in the midst of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
More than 32,000 people have died from the virus in New York, 15,000 have died in New Jersey, 7,600 in Pennsylvania, and 6,600 in Michigan. New York and New Jersey, respectively, have the highest and second-highest number of virus deaths in the United States, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The offices of the four governors haven’t responded to a request for comment.
On March 25, Cuomo issued an executive order that prohibited nursing homes from denying admission to patients on the basis of being infected with the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus. On May 10, the governor issued an executive order that blocked hospitals from sending infected nursing homes.
“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,” according to the governor’s order.
Whitmer issued a similar order on April 15, while the state health departments in California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania issued similar directives in March.
“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 in a statement on Thursday. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
The department’s Civil Rights Division is evaluating whether to launch investigations under its Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which safeguards the rights of people in state-run nursing homes, according to a release. It said that the four states’ orders may have “resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”
The states also “required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing,” the DOJ said.
The DOJ noted that Texas’s death rate is 380 deaths per million people, with about 11,000 COVID-19 deaths, even though its population is about 50 percent larger than New York’s. New York, in contrast, had 1,680 deaths per million people, which is the second-highest in the United States. Florida’s death rate was 480 deaths per million, the agency said.
Whitmer’s press secretary Tiffany Brown said in a statement Wednesday that “protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of our seniors and most vulnerable residents has been a top priority throughout this crisis.”
Brown called the letter “nothing more than election year politics,” adding: “We will review this letter and respond as appropriate, however, 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.”
In July, Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Cuomo, responded to a separate, House Republican-led request about nursing home mandates. He described the GOP politicians as “craven political hacks sent this same partisan document to several other states—all of which happen to have Democratic governors—apparently seeking some sort of election-year boost and to misdirect attention away from the oversight committee’s investigation into the federal pandemic response.”
At the time, he noted that current New York state law prohibits nursing homes from accepting patients, saying that New York state law is similar to federal guidelines that were issued on March 13, advising that nursing homes only take in patients with actual and suspected CCP virus infections if they were capable of following the quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 32 percent of Michigan’s 6,417 overall COVID-19 deaths have occurred among nursing home residents, according to the Detroit News, citing state data. Over 6,600 people have died from COVID-19 in New York nursing homes according to the state’s official count, but the actual number could be higher, reported AP. In New Jersey, at least 6,700 nursing home residents died during the pandemic, and about 68 percent of the nearly 7,000 COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania occurred in nursing homes, data shows.
Ivan Pentchoukov and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.