DOJ Will Decide Whether to Investigate New York Nursing Home Deaths: White House

DOJ Will Decide Whether to Investigate New York Nursing Home Deaths: White House
Families of COVID-19 victims who passed away in New York nursing homes gather in front of Cobble Hill Heath Center in Brooklyn, New York, to demand State Governor Andrew Cuomo apologize for his response to clusters in nursing homes during pandemic on Oct. 18, 2020. (Yuki Iwamura/AP Photo)
Zachary Stieber

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will make the decision on a potential probe of New York officials over nursing home deaths from COVID-19, the White House said Friday.

“Any investigation, I would point to the Department of Justice,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

“Again, any investigation would be led by the Department of Justice. We are in a new age. They’re independent and they will determine what path they take moving forward,” she added when pressed on the matter.

The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment.

New York Attorney General Letitia James published an investigation this week that found state officials underreported COVID-19-related nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent in some places.

James, a Democrat, said that Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to order recovering nursing home patients to be returned to the facilities to free up hospital beds may have led to more deaths.

After the report was published, officials disclosed nearly 4,000 additional deaths among nursing home residents.

New York has one the highest COVID-19-linked death rates per 100,000 residents in the nation and critics say the rate was fueled by the March 2020 memo that was in place for some five weeks.

Officials have repeatedly said that wasn’t the case and blamed spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, on nursing home staff members and visitors. Cuomo downplayed the nursing home deaths on Friday, telling reporters during a briefing: “Where this starts is frankly a political attack from the prior federal administration.”
The DOJ last year requested data from Cuomo and three other governors about orders related to nursing home residents with COVID-19. It later expanded its request, asking for detailed numbers from hundreds of facilities in New York state.

The data “will help inform whether the Department of Justice will initiate investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act,” according to the DOJ.

“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,” then-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said at the time. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”