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August 27, 2020

Feds mull investigation of COVID-19 deaths at Pennsylvania, New Jersey nursing homes

Investigations COVID-19
COVID-19 Deaths Nursing Homes Source/U.S. Department of Justice

Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for civil rights division, is considering investigating the COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes of four states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked four states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, to provide coronavirus data as officials consider launching investigations to determine whether the states failed to protect nursing home residents.

All four states mandated nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients without adequate testing, the justice department said Wednesday. Such orders may have led to the deaths of thousands of elderly people. 

The orders, which also were issued by New York and Michigan, may have been in violation of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects the civil rights of people living in state-run nursing homes. 

The justice department is requesting the states submit the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among nursing home residents and staffers. It also wants all guidance issued by the state to long-term care facilities during the pandemic and the number of people who were admitted to nursing homes after testing positive for the coronavirus. 

The justice department requested the information be submitted within the next two weeks. 

All four states are headed by Democratic governors. But the Republican-led justice department said the data requests are not accusations of wrongdoing and that no conclusions have been reached.   

"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," said Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for civil rights division. "We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk."

Nursing homes across the country have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More than 900 long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania have experienced coronavirus outbreaks, resulting in 25,263 COVID-19 cases and 5,155 deaths among the facilities. Those totals account for nearly 20% of the state's total cases and more than two-thirds of its death toll. 

More than 600 long-term care facilities in New Jersey have experienced outbreaks. There have been 37,967 COVID-19 cases and 7,069 lab-confirmed deaths among nursing homes, accounting for about 20% of the state's cases and half of its deaths. 

"The fact that this request from the Department of Justice, sent only to four states with Democratic governors, was announced by press release during the Republican National Convention speaks volumes about the nature of the review," said Alyana Alfaro, press secretary for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

"Throughout the pandemic, the state of New Jersey followed CDC guidance and took numerous actions to protect residents of our nursing homes. We do not comment on investigative inquiries and will respond through the appropriate channels in due course."

Pennsylvania officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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