(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) wants answers about Michigan’s COVID-19 nursing home policies.
The Justice Department Wednesday requested COVID-19 data from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan – states “that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing,” according to a DOJ press release.
The DOJ said it's investigating whether the nursing home orders of four Democratic governors “may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.”
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband stated: “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. We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
The DOJ noted its Civil Rights Division is evaluating whether to investigate the states’ orders under the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), which protects those in state-run nursing homes.
A letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested:
- The number of public nursing home residents and others in the facility who contracted COVID-19
- The number of public nursing home residents and others in the facility who died of COVID-19, including after being transferred to a hospital or other medical facility, hospice, home care, or any other location.
- All State-issued guidance, directives, advisories, or executive orders regarding admission of persons to Public Nursing Homes
- The number of persons admitted to a Public Nursing Home from a hospital or any other facility, after testing positive for COVID- 19
Whitmer has received bipartisan criticism for her nursing home policies.
Whitmer vetoed legislation that critics say would have protected residents by sending COVID-19 positive patients to a nursing facility separate from non-infected patients.
Many COVID-19 patients were transferred into nursing homes that violated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isolation protocols, some of which racked up more than 40 COVID-19 related deaths.
Michigan officials have defended their nursing home policies, arguing they made the best decisions using the best information they had at that time.
Whitmer's press secretary Tiffany Brown said in a statement they will review and respond to the letter, but called the letter “nothing more than election year politics” in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon.
"Protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of our seniors and most vulnerable residents has been a top priority throughout this crisis,” Brown added.
“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. … 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," Brown said.
According to the DOJ, it has "not reached any conclusions about this matter,” and requested answers within 14 days.
COVID-19 killed 2,083 nursing home residents in Michigan, about 32 percent of the state's total deaths from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
That tally doesn’t include other long-term care categories such as homes for the aged, data that the state has collected since May 29 but hasn’t made public.
COVID-19 battered long-term care facilities across the nation as residents were in high-risk categories of advanced age or had preexisting conditions that compromised their immune system.
The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity estimated nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for about 45 percent of the COVID-19 deaths across the nation.