The Department of Justice declined opening a civil rights investigation into Michigan nursing homes following a request of information last year in regards to COVID-19 policies.
The request was initially submitted in August during the presidential campaign in response to the long term disagreement surrounding pandemic policies. Specifically, the investigation is concerned with the policies implemented by some state Governors on how nursing home residents with COVID-19 are treated.
The DOJ declined the request Thursday evening stating that while the case had been reviewed, a formal investigation would not be opened.
“We have reviewed the information you provided along with additional information available to the department,” wrote Steven Rosenbaum, chief of the special litigation section for the department's civil rights division, in a letter to Whitmer's chief legal counsel, Mark Totten as reported by the Detroit News, on Thursday. “Based on that review, we have decided not to open a CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) investigation of any public nursing facility within Michigan at this time.”
The department’s civil rights division discussed in August whether to open a Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act which would specifically protect residents of state-run nursing homes.
"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, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement last August. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
This issue has proved controversial in the Michigan legislature with about 29% of statewide virus-linked deaths being from residents or staff of long-term facilities, with a total of about 5,756 COVID-19 deaths.
Knowing that the nursing home issue has been a point of contention for GOP lawmakers, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office dismissed the letter as "nothing more than election year politics.” Additionally, Whitmer and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a joint statement calling the request "a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice."
Whitmer’s spokesperson Bobby Leddy addressed Nessel’s request on Thursday, noting that Nessel had previously refused a Republican request of investigation on Whitmer’s nursing home policies.
“Throughout the pandemic, our administration took swift action, following the best data and science from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect Michiganders, including vulnerable residents in long-term-care facilities," Leddy said as reported by the Detroit News. "I want to be clear: at no point were nursing homes ever forced to take COVID-positive patients.
It's time "to end the political games and work together to get things done for Michiganders," Leddy said.
In response to COVID-19, regional hubs were created in April 2020 by the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for long-term care residents with COVID-19. The hubs utilised pre-existing nursing homes and long-term care units which had isolated space and equipment to aid elederly residents being discharged from hospitals with COVID-19.
GOP lawmakers however continuously called for entirely separate care units for elderly people with COVID-19. In the DHSS initial selection over half of Michigan’s long-term care facilities that were selected for regional hubs had below average quality assessments from the federal government. Additionally, many nursing homes struggled to implement the new regional hub protocols and practices.
In February, state Sen. Jim Runestad, a Republican from White Lake, addressed Whitmer’s regional hub implementation.
“Gov. Whitmer’s regional hub policy placed patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities and may have increased the death toll in those facilities,” Runestad said, as reported by the Detroit News.
Deadline Detroit reported that after a joint investigation between “No BS News Hour” and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the DHSS does an inadequate job of reporting the vitals of people who have died from COVID-19 to see if they are linked to a nursing home. Deadline found that in DHSS’s limited report, over 44% of deaths were linked to long-term care facilities.
Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido, a known critic of Whitmer and former Republican senator, said the investigation is important to the people of Michigan.
People are desperate for answers "as to what happened when they couldn't see or they couldn’t properly communicate with their loved ones," the county prosecutor said.
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