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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Justice Department asks Murphy to supply data on nursing home deaths

By David Wildstein, August 26 2020 4:55 pm

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked Gov. Phil Murphy and three other Democratic governors for data regarding the coronavirus-related deaths of elderly nursing home residents as they consider whether to launch a formal investigation.

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

The Justice Department says it is assessing the initiation of a probe under the  “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA), which protects residents in state-run nursing homes.

Letters went to Murphy and the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Michigan.

Murphy was given two weeks to supply the Justice Department with data containing the number of public nursing home residents, employees, staff, guests and visitors who contracted COVID-19, no matter where the individual first contracted the coronavirus, and the number who died – even if their death occurred outside of the nursing home.

The DOJ also wants to know how many people were admitted to public nursing homes from a hospital or any other health care facility after testing positive for COVID-19.

Additionally, they want copies of all executive orders, directives, advisories and guidance issued by the state to the nursing homes.

The statement released by the Justice Department noted that data requests are not accusations of fault or wrongdoing.

“We have not reached any conclusions about this matter,” Dreiband wrote.  “In the Division’s many years of enforcing CRIPA, the good faith efforts of state, county, or local jurisdictions working with us have enabled us to resolve many matters amicably.

New Jersey Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt first asked the Justice Department to investigate the Murphy administration’s management of long-term care facilities in June.

“The Murphy Administration turned veteran and senior homes into death traps by sending Covid-positive patients into these facilities against CDC guidance, and the families of the more than 7,000 victims deserve justice,” Steinhardt said.  “Thank you to the Department of Justice for hearing New Jersey’s cries for help.”

Alyanna Alfaro, Murphy’s press secretary, suggested that the Justice Department’s request for information is politically motivated.

“The fact that this request from the Department of Justice, sent only to four states with Democratic governors, was announced by press release during the Republican National Convention speaks volumes about the nature of the review,” Alfaro said. ” Throughout the pandemic, the State of New Jersey followed CDC guidance and took numerous actions to protect residents of our nursing homes. We do not comment on investigative inquiries and will respond through the appropriate channels in due course.”

This story was updated at 5:51 PM with comment from Alfaro.

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