(WWJ/AP) The U.S. Justice Department is seeking data about “orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents,” sending letters to the governors of Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
Officials say Wednesday that the Justice Department’s civil rights division is evaluating whether to initiate investigations under a federal law that protects the rights of people in state-run nursing homes and other facilities.
Prosecutors are trying to determine whether state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes could have led to deaths.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband says the federal government must ensure vulnerable nursing home patients “are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office is calling it "political' -- as the letters were only sent to governors who are Democrats.
However, according to data from the health department, it is true that nursing homes amounts to nearly a third of Michigan's overall fatalities.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick reports, at least at this time, the feds are not saying that Whitmer did anything wrong.
"But they want to see that data," Skubick said. "Simultaneously, a legislative committee is also looking into this. They take exception to the governor's policy of putting COVID patients into nursing homes."
"The governor has defended her policy, saying they are to be separated from the general population." Skubick added. "But this review now will get the feds to see if there is any alleged wrongdoing."
Whitmer's Press Secretary Tiffany Brown on Wednesday issued the following statement:
"Protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of our seniors and most vulnerable residents has been a top priority throughout this crisis. The fact that this letter was sent during the middle of the Republican National Convention week to four Democratic governors should make it crystal clear that this is nothing more than election year politics by an administration that is more concerned with the president's re-election campaign than protecting Michigan seniors. We will review this letter and respond as appropriate, however, Americans would all be better served if the Trump administration stopped the partisan games and focused on delivering a real plan to defeat COVID-19."
This comes as outbreaks are happening in nursing homes all over the county. Long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they account for 42% of the COVID-19 deaths nationwide, with more than 70,000 fatalities reported by the COVID Tracking Project.