▶ Watch Video: Recent spike in coronavirus cases in nursing homes blamed on testing delays

The Department of Justice is asking for data from states that required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients that the department alleges “may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.” The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is also considering whether to begin investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.” 

In New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the states’ governors issued orders preventing nursing homes from refusing COVID-19 patients entry, despite the vulnerable populations in nursing homes. 

But New York has pointed out that their actions did not violate the federal government’s own guidelines. 

A March 13 memo from the Centers for Disease Control reads, “A nursing home can accept a resident diagnosed with COVID-19 and still under Transmission Precautions for COVID19 as long as the facility can follow CDC guidance for Transmission-Based Precautions.”

New York’s total nursing home deaths are still unclear and the state only counts residents who died on nursing home property, so the state has not counted those who were transported to hospitals and died there. As a result, New York’s COVID-19 nursing home deaths is reported to be 20% out of its overall COVID-19 death toll, when it could be significantly higher. 

In May, New York also reported more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and other adult care facilities. 

“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,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said in a statement. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”

The Justice Department Civil Rights Division wants to determine if the state orders requiring readmission of COVID-19 patients is responsible for the deaths of some nursing home residents. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that states have varied and inconsistent reporting rules for reporting COVID-19 deaths in assisted living facilities. The true number of nursing home deaths in the United States remains unclear. 

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