The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent letters to the Democratic governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to ascertain whether states violated federal law by ordering nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients from hospitals, an action that critics say spread the novel coronavirus and possibly contributed to the death toll. DOJ prosecutors say these orders “may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”
“We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said.
The offices of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said the request is currently under review. The offices of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the request is politically motivated, coming the week of the Republican National Convention, which Republicans have spent slamming the Democrats’ response to the pandemic.
“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 Tiffany Brown, a spokesperson for Governor Whitmer.
“This is nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention. It’s no coincidence the moment the Trump administration is caught weakening the CDC’s COVID-19 testing guidelines to artificially lower the number of positive cases, they launched this nakedly partisan deflection,” Cuomo and Whitmer said.
They added: “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. DOJ should send a letter to CMS (Center for Medicare Services) and CDC since the State’s advisories were modeled after their guidance.”
The Justice Department’s release quotes from New York’s order which stated: “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.” (Cuomo later rescinded the order.)
“These orders resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of nursing home patients. Our nation’s seniors and their loved ones deserve better,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana (R), who said the move by the Justice Department is “the right step toward holding Gov. Cuomo and other Democratic governors accountable for issuing deadly ‘must admit’ orders at nursing homes.”