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DOJ declines to investigate Cuomo’s handling of covid-19 in nursing homes

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/25/2021 Max Hauptman

The U.S. Justice Department announced Saturday that it will not conduct a civil investigation into New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D)'s handling of coronavirus cases in state nursing facilities.

In a letter sent to Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) on Friday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Gaeta wrote that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division had requested information on “nursing facilities run by, or for, the State of New York” last August. After a review, the letter stated that the department would decline to open an investigation into any public nursing facility in the state based on violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

Zeldin had requested the investigation earlier this year, adding to the growing number of state and federal inquiries into the New York governor.

Zeldin, a Republican candidate in next year’s gubernatorial race who represents a congressional district in Long Island, released a statement Friday, attacking the Justice Department for its decision.

“The families and loved ones of the victims of Governor Cuomo’s failed leadership deserve transparency, accountability and the truth about the lengths of the Cuomo administration’s cover up and corruption,” said Zeldin. “The Department of Justice has now chosen to willfully participate in the effort to deny the public answers and accountability.”

Cuomo’s handling of coronavirus cases in the early days of the pandemic has been the source of controversy after the state ordered nursing homes to accept discharging hospital patients, regardless of a suspected or positive diagnosis of the virus. Cuomo’s office was accused of downplaying and undercounting the subsequent death toll in nursing homes.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo draws bipartisan ire for withholding data on nursing home deaths

In January, a report by New York Attorney General Letitia James found that, “a larger number of nursing home residents died from covid-19 than the New York State Department of Health’s (DOH) published nursing home data reflected and may have been undercounted by as much as 50 percent.” That report also found that many nursing home facilities did not properly isolate residents who had tested positive for the coronavirus or screen employees for potential infections.

Last July, New York health officials released a report denying that their policies had caused any increase in fatalities.

The New York governor’s office remains under state and federal scrutiny over multiple questions. The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn is conducting an investigation into the governor’s office for its nursing home policies and allegedly undercounting the number of fatalities. The U.S. attorney’s office did not comment Saturday on that investigation. The New York attorney general’s office continues to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against the governor as well as the more than $5 million the governor received for a book he authored about the coronavirus pandemic. Cuomo is also under investigation for allegedly giving preferential treatment to family members for coronavirus testing.

Video: DOJ Declines Civil Investigation Into Nursing Home COVID Policies (CBS New York)

Cuomo to receive $5.1 million for his book on the coronavirus pandemic

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who earlier this year was named chair of the House Republican Conference, also decried what she called a “shameful” decision.

“President Biden is now complicit in these deaths,” the congresswoman said in a tweet .

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Last August, the Department of Justice requested data from four states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that had issued orders requiring coronavirus patients to be admitted to nursing facilities. The department said at the time that these actions “may have resulted in deaths” of patients at said facilities. In October, the department also opened an investigation into the conditions at two nursing facilities operated by New Jersey.

In addition to New York, the Department of Justice has also declined to open investigations in any of the other states from which it initially requested data. Gaeta delivered the news in a separate letter to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Scalise, the ranking Republican member of the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, called the decision “outrageous.”

Shayna Jacobs contributed to this report.

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