I learned on Friday that the Department of Justice has opted not to pursue a civil rights investigation into government-run nursing homes in several states about their COVID-19 response.
Earlier this year, I urged the department to pursue this investigation, and I today called on the Attorney General to reconsider this decision, in light of media reports suggesting that obstruction of justice may have occurred in at least one of these jurisdictions.
Close to one year ago, the department sought information from four states – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan – about the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in their public nursing homes. The department’s requests for this information came on the heels of media reports suggesting that state officials in these jurisdictions had pressured nursing homes to accept patients regardless of their COVID-19 status.
It was reported that officials in New York also may have engaged in a cover up, by actively concealing from the public the actual number of COVID-19 related fatalities in that state’s nursing homes.
Serious questions remain to this day about whether governors in New York or these three other jurisdictions helped fuel the COVID-19-related death toll in nursing homes through the issuance of executive orders that went against the advice of geriatricians.
Yet the department is declining to pursue the matter, and in the case of New York, this is particularly troubling.
New York’s governor not only reportedly pressured nursing homes in his state to accept patients during the initial stage of the pandemic, regardless of their COVID-19 status, but his administration did not provide an accurate picture of the actual death toll to the public.
This lack of transparency was done to avoid accountability.
Simply put, the public deserves better.
According to a report by the New York Post, a top aide to Governor Cuomo even apologized to a group of Democratic lawmakers during a phone call for reportedly withholding data on COVID-19 related nursing home fatalities during this pandemic.
The department’s Civil Rights Division won’t investigate, but at least the FBI and prosecutors at a U.S. Attorney’s Office are looking into the matter.
These federal prosecutors’ review reportedly focuses on whether Governor Cuomo’s administration under-reported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes in an effort to avoid negative publicity.
At least someone is looking at this; however, I’m disappointed that the Justice Department proper and Attorney General Garland have decided to pull their punches.
As I stated today in a letter to the Attorney General, it would be a grave injustice to those who perished in these facilities during the pandemic to neglect to fully explore such widely reported and troubling allegations.
And as others, too, have noted, promoting more accountability and transparency is vital under these circumstances: it would not only help prevent similar missteps in the future, but also maintain public confidence in the department which is waning under the department’s current leadership.