Justice Department drops investigation into COVID-19 deaths at New York nursing homes

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ALBANY, N.Y. – The Justice Department said late Friday it will not open a civil rights investigation into New York's handling of COVID-19 deaths at state-run nursing homes.

The decision ends nearly a year of inquiry by the department started under then-President Donald Trump into how COVID-19 deaths and infections swept through the vulnerable populations in nursing homes.

In a letter to some Republican members of Congress, the Justice Department said it has decided against opening a civil rights investigation into public nursing homes in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan, but it still has a probe in two nursing homes in New Jersey.

"Based on that review, we have decided not to open a CRIPA investigation of any public nursing facility within New York at this time," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Gaeta wrote, referring to the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which empowers the Justice Department to investigate allegations about unlawful conditions in government-run residences.

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The Justice Department's decision drew an outcry from Republicans, who contended President Joe Biden's administration is letting the Democratic governors off the hook.

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“This decision from President Biden’s Department of Justice makes President Biden complicit in the criminal corruption scandal and coverup of deaths of thousands of vulnerable seniors,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said in a statement.

“New Yorkers deserve answers and accountability."

There was no immediate comment from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration to the federal decision.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is still under a series of investigations, and the Justice Department's review only pertained to state-run facilities, not New York's COVID-19 policies at all private and public homes.

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Nearly 16,000 people died in New York nursing homes due to COVID-19, largely in the first months of the pandemic as the state was the virus' first epicenter. New York has had about 53,800 COVID deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020, according to federal data.

Federal prosecutors in New York City are still believed to be investigating a state policy in March 2020 that pressed nursing homes to accept COVID-positive residents, an order that was overturned two months later. The review is also looking into the state's undercounting of COVID deaths in nursing homes.

Additionally, the nursing home situation is being investigated by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, while state Attorney General Letitia James is investigating Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations and a $5 million book deal he got to write about the state's COVID response.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

Follow Joseph Spector on Twitter: JSPECTOR@Gannett.com

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: COVID deaths at NY nursing homes: Justice Department drops probe

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