The announcement in a letter sent to GOP Representative Steve Scalise sparked quick outrage from him and other Republicans who accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, of covering up the deaths linked to Covid-19 in nursing homes across his state. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, but the state’s handling of data regarding deaths in long-term care facilities has been the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. prosecutor’s office in Brooklyn.
In a letter obtained by CNN on Friday, the Justice Department said it “has decided not to open a Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) investigation into a public nursing facility in New York, Pa. or Michigan for now ”after reviewing the information provided by states and other available information.
The Justice Department confirmed that it opened an investigation in October 2020 into two New Jersey facilities.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told CNN that the department would not comment beyond what is in the letter. Cuomo’s office declined to comment on CNN, and messages left at other governor’s offices were not immediately returned on Saturday.
Scalise, who is the top Republican on the House coronavirus crisis subcommittee on Friday, called the Justice Department’s decision “outrageous.”
“Grieving families deserve answers and responsibilities. It is unreasonable that (President Joe’s) Biden’s Justice Department refuses to investigate the deadly actions that went against medical directives (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) taken in these states, ”said Scalize in a release.
Last August, the Justice Department under the Trump administration requested Covid-19 data from the four states that have issued orders requiring Covid-19 patients to be admitted to nursing homes, which, according to the ministry, “could have resulted” in the deaths of nursing home residents.
Political focus on Cuomo
Cuomo, who has been widely praised in Democratic circles for his leadership at the start of the pandemic, has since come under scrutiny of his administration’s guidance regarding Covid-19 and nursing homes.
In March 2020, his administration issued a notice prohibiting nursing homes from refusing to admit patients on the sole basis of a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Covid-19 in order to free up hospital beds.
The directive “may have placed residents at increased risk of harm in some facilities,” according to a January report from the state attorney general. The attorney general also found that some state nursing homes failed to take appropriate infection control measures and isolate Covid-19 patients in nursing homes.
Cuomo’s administration also underestimated the number of Covid deaths among New York City long-term care patients, according to the report, and then delayed sharing potentially damaging information with state lawmakers.
One of Cuomo’s top aides admitted in February that the administration tried to delay release of the data, wary of a preliminary investigation by the Federal Department of Justice.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal also reported in March that some of Cuomo’s top aides rewrote a June report on a nursing home by state health officials to hide the higher death toll. of Covid-19 among residents of nursing homes across the state.
Faced with the pressure, Cuomo in February defended his administration’s delay in releasing data on Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, but took responsibility for not providing the data when lawmakers asked.
He claimed his administration was following CDC guidelines at the time and that patients recovering from Covid-19 were transferred out of hospitals as soon as possible so that they did not contract secondary infection. He also said nursing homes could only accept patients if they were able to care for them.
He also attributed the spread of the virus in nursing homes to caregivers rather than his administration’s directive.
The nursing home scandal is one of many recent crises for the troubled Democratic governor, who is also under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment. He refused calls to resign and denied knowingly acting inappropriately.
CNN’s Christina Carrega, Elizabeth Joseph, Jamie Crawford, Brynn Gingras, Paul LeBlanc, Lauren del Valle and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.