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Over the past six months, government officials and reporters have exposed damning reports that suggest New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has attempted to reduce the true number of pandemic-related deaths in homes across the country. state nursing. Data from the state attorney general revealed that the public tally of deaths in nursing homes in New York City may have underestimated deaths by up to 50%, and the New York Times found out about efforts by Cuomo’s aides to prevent health officials from sharing this data with state lawmakers and the public. These moves coincided with a time when Cuomo was trying to sign a multi-million dollar deal for a book about his handling of the COVID crisis, capitalizing on the image he had cultivated as a tough hero of pandemic leadership when New York City was the epicenter of COVID in the spring of 2020.
On Friday, the Department of Justice revealed that it had refused to investigate further what had happened in New York.
In letters sent to several lawmakers, the DOJ said it would not open a civil investigation into New York’s handling of the pandemic in nursing homes. In a letter to Representative Lee Zeldin (RN.Y.), who plans to challenge the beleaguered three-term holder in the race for governor of New York in 2022, the department said it had requested information from the New York State last summer. “We have reviewed the information provided,” wrote Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Gaeta. “Based on this review, we have decided not to open any [Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act] investigating any public nursing facility at this time.
Meanwhile, New York’s handling of nursing home death toll data is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn and the FBI. Cuomo is also the subject of an unrelated state investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, after nearly a dozen women filed charges against him this spring.
The DOJ has also refused to open investigations into the response to the pandemic at nursing homes in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Each of these three states had issued policies during the height of the first COVID wave in spring 2020 that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients, despite the lack of adequate testing and the high risk of serious or serious COVID complications. deaths among nurses. the elderly in the homes. These “admit” orders emerged as nursing homes became one of the hardest hit places. As my colleague Molly Schwartz explained in February:
When the coronavirus first appeared in the United States, nursing homes were an epicenter of infection and continued to have the highest death and infection rates of any population. Infection rates in nursing homes peaked in late November after the Thanksgiving trip, and the number of deaths continues to rise, peaking at 7,004 weekly nursing home deaths in just the week of the 14th. January. As of February 2, 153,159 of the 443,751 Americans who have died from COVID-19 – a whopping 35% – are residents of long-term care facilities; they make up less than 1 percent of the US population.
Last summer, the Justice Department – then under the leadership of the Trump administration – requested more information from these three states, as well as New Jersey, to assess whether their “must admit” policies may have caused pandemic deaths in nursing homes. Based on this information, the DOJ opened an investigation in New Jersey. But the department’s Friday announcement effectively ended the chances of a federal investigation in the other three states.
The announcement drew sharp criticism from several Republican lawmakers for the department’s decision not to investigate “must-sees” prescriptions that may have triggered COVID outbreaks in healthcare facilities. “Where is the justice for the victims of retirement homes and their grieving families? Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La), a leading member of the House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, said in a statement. “These lethal orders contradicted CDC guidelines and unnecessarily endangered the most vulnerable among us to the deadly COVID-19 virus.”