DOJ requests nursing home coronavirus deaths data from Cuomo, other govs

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday that it is requesting data from governors of states that implemented coronavirus policies that may have resulted in deaths of the elderly at nursing homes.

The DOJ said it would request data to determine whether it would initiate investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act into New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

“Today the Justice Department requested COVID-19 data from the governors of states that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents,” the department wrote in a release. “New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also enforced a similar order.

The DOJ specifically cited New York’s March 25 order: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to [a nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. [Nursing homes] are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York had the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the country with 32,592, many of whom were elderly. It had the second-highest death rate by population: 1,680 deaths per million people, according to the DOJ. New Jersey had the highest death rate with 1,733 deaths per million.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who reversed the controversial nursing home policy on May 10, has shrugged off calls for an independent investigation. Cuomo said this month “you’d have to be blind” to think calls to investigate coronavirus nursing home deaths were “not political.”

“I wouldn’t do an investigation whether or not it’s political, everybody can make that decision for themselves,” Cuomo said. “I think you’d have to be blind to realize it’s not political.”

He also played down concerns that the official Covid-19 death count in nursing homes could be an undercount. 

Unlike the federal government and other states, New York is the only state to explicitly say it only counts residents who died on nursing home property from coronavirus in its count of nursing home deaths. Those who were transported to hospitals and died there are added to a separate count.

“If you die in the nursing home, it’s a nursing home death. If you die in the hospital, it’s called a hospital death,” the Democratic governor told Albany public radio station WAMC on Wednesday. “It doesn’t say where were you before.”

Cuomo explained that if the state were to count a death as a hospital death and a nursing home death it would lead to a “double count.”

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An Associated Press report last week found New York’s official care home death count of more than 6,620 is not just an undercount but likely an undercount by thousands of deaths. A separate federal count in May that included resident deaths in hospitals was 65 percent higher than the state count that didn’t.

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