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The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to open a civil rights investigation into how government-run nursing homes in New York State responded to the COVID-19 crisis last year.

The decision drew fire from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) who called it a “gift” to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the Biden Administration.

The families and loved ones of the nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 “deserve transparency, accountability and the truth about the lengths of the Cuomo administration’s cover-up and corruption,” Zeldin said in a statement yesterday. He accused the Biden Justice Department of participating in the “effort to deny the public answers and accountability.”

Zeldin and other Republican members of New York’s Congressional delegation demanded the investigation last year and in early February asked for an update on its status. DOJ’s Civil Rights Division on Friday informed the members it would not open an investigation into state-run nursing homes.

The Civil Rights Division requested information from the state last summer, according to a letter written by an attorney in the agency, and after reviewing the information provided, has decided not to open an investigation under a federal statute that authorizes DOJ to prosecute violations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. That law pertains only to government-run facilities.

“Approximately 7% of New York’s nursing homes are publicly operated, and the families of the victims who died in those nursing homes and elsewhere deserve accountability and the truth,” Zeldin said in a statement yesterday.

The letter did not address the status of other Justice Department inquiries into how the Cuomo administration handled the COVID-19 outbreak into privately owned nursing homes or how it handled data related to COVID-19 illnesses and deaths among nursing home residents.

In October, DOJ wrote to the the State Department of Health requesting data from private facilities, including the number of private nursing home residents, employees and other staff who contacted COVID-19, the number who died of the disease, whether their deaths occurred in the nursing home or after being transferred to a hospital, hospice or other facility, and the number of persons admitted to a private nursing home from a hospital, hospice or other facility after testing positive for COVID-19.

DOJ has the authority to investigate “grossly substandard care” for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, Zeldin said.

According to the New York Times, the FBI is investigating whether members of the Cuomo Administration provided false data to the Justice Department concerning deaths of nursing home residents.

The Cuomo Administration has been under scrutiny over a State Health Department order issued March 25, 2020 requiring nursing homes to to accept “medically stable” confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. The directive even barred nursing homes from requiring a COVID-19 test prior to admission or readmission to the home.

“No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” the directive said, citing “an urgent need to expand hospital capacity in New York.”

See April 17, 2020 story:

After the order became public, the governor denied it had any impact on the spread of the disease in nursing homes or the COVID-19 death toll in the facilities. The health department rescinded its March 25 directive on May 10, 2020, after its disclosure sparked outrage from families and nursing home residents’ advocates.

“Governor Cuomo’s nursing home order …led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of New Yorkers,” Zeldin said yesterday. “The Department of Justice’s decision to forgo an investigation, without providing any reasoning to the public, just further denies these families answers and fails to address the Cuomo administration’s rampant corruption” to cover up the true consequences of his failed policy,” said Zeldin, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2022.

The state’s method of reporting data on infections and deaths was widely criticized as incomplete and misleading, and drew allegations that the state was attempting to cover up the data to evade responsibility for the impacts of its controversial March 25 directive.

An investigation by N.Y. Attorney General Letitia James found that the state had underreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes by 50% because the state-reported data did not include nursing home residents who died in hospitals after being transferred from a nursing home where they contracted the disease.

After the AG issued her report and after a court ordered the data be made public in response to a lawsuit filed by the Empire Center, the State Health Department began disclosing the full count of nursing home resident deaths, which added thousands of additional fatalities.

The total COVID-19 death toll among New York residents in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other adult care facilities — both confirmed and presumed cases in both public and private facilities — stood at 15,673 as of July 22, according to data reported yesterday by the State Health Department.

State officials, including Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, have admitted withholding data from state lawmakers.

An impeachment inquiry by the State Assembly is looking into both the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes and allegations against the governor of sexual harassment and workplace intimidation.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.