The Justice Department’s civil rights division will request data from the governors of four states, including New York and Michigan, as part of a preliminary investigation into whether nursing home policies implemented there caused spikes in coronavirus fatalities.
“New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing,” the Justice Department said in a statement on Wednesday.
Led by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, the civil rights division will make the request for nursing home data from the governors as it considers whether to open an investigation under the “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.”
“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,” Dreiband said.
The four states, which all have Democratic governors, implemented policies early in the coronavirus pandemic that required nursing homes to re-admit residents from hospitals even if they tested positive for COVID-19, the Justice Department said.
The policies were widely criticized, with critics asserting that the measures would increase transmission of coronavirus at nursing homes.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented his state’s policy on March 25.
Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health implemented the policy in order to free up hospital beds to grapple with what officials expected to be a tidal wave of coronavirus cases.
The New York health agency has claimed that just over 6,000 nursing home residents have succumbed to coronavirus. The agency acknowledged to The Daily Caller News Foundation in May that its data for nursing home residents does not include people who died in hospitals, even if they contracted the virus at long-term care facilities.
The Justice Department’s data request may spur allegations that the Trump administration is targeting states whose governors have grappled with President Donald Trump over the response to the pandemic.
Trump has feuded publicly with Cuomo and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and the two Democrats have accused Trump of failing to provide adequate resources to their states to deal with the pandemic.
Cuomo has dismissed criticism of his nursing home policy as “political.” He also touted a report that the New York department of health released last month that said that the March 25 nursing home order did not cause a spike in coronavirus-related deaths at nursing homes.
The report, which blamed nursing home staff for the bulk of coronavirus transmission, has been widely criticized over its poor methodology. Democrats and Republicans in the New York state legislature held hearings earlier this month over Cuomo’s policy.
“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,” 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.”
The New York State Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.