The Department of Justice on Wednesday sent letters to four state governors requesting detailed information about their decisions regarding COVID-19 in nursing homes, potentially setting the stage for a formal civil rights investigation.
The federal agency’s Civil Rights Division in particular wants data regarding the controversial decisions — made in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — to require nursing homes to accept residents that had tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic.
The information will help the Justice Department determine whether or not the states violated the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA).
“The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents,” the DOJ said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The four letters ask the states to share all orders related to nursing home admissions during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as specific data regarding infection and death rates among nursing homes residents and workers.
The request specifically targets nursing homes operated by the states, or “provide services on behalf of” each state or “a political subdivision” of each state.”
“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 who signed the letters, said in a statement. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
Since March, the admission orders have been at the center of the political debate over the government’s response to COVID-19 in nursing homes, usually falling along party lines.
All four governors — Andrew Cuomo of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan — are Democrats, and have largely faced criticism from Republican lawmakers over their nursing home decisions.
The Department of Justice, as a federal agency, sits under the jurisdiction of the current Republican presidential administration.
Whitmer’s press secretary Tiffany Brown on Wednesday issued a statement describing the letter as “partisan.”
“The fact that this letter was sent during the middle of the Republican National Convention week to four Democratic governors should make it crystal clear that this is nothing more than election year politics by an administration that is more concerned with the president’s re-election campaign than protecting Michigan seniors,” Brown said. “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.”