(The Center Square) – Four Democratic governors, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, received letters Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Justice requesting data on the impact COVID-19 has had on public nursing homes in their states.
The letters, which were also sent to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, 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 testing positive for COVID-19. Federal authorities also want to know how many residents, employees and visitors of public nursing homes who came down with the virus, regardless of where they contracted the virus, and they also want to know how many of those individuals died, including those who died in the facility after being transferred.
They also seek the guidelines the states gave the nursing homes on admitting residents, including those that have been pulled, and how long those mandates were in place.
Justice Department authorities 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 State's 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 on 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, the number of COVID-19 deaths skyrocketed 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, the 32,921 deaths in New York by far outpace other states according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. 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. However, state and federal lawmakers have been skeptical of that report and the information state officials have turned over.
A message to Cuomo’s press office was not returned Wednesday afternoon.
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said the DOJ’s inquiry answers state GOP lawmakers’ call for an independent review into the matter.
“The Cuomo administration, unlike any other state in the nation, refused to provide an accurate number of nursing home residents who passed away during the pandemic and continually stonewalls lawmakers and families who seek answers,” Ortt said in a statement.