Whitmer, Cuomo push back on DOJ’s ‘political’ nursing home COVID-19 inquiry

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Wednesday requested that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and three other states led by Democrats submit data related to nursing homes and COVID-19 deaths.

In a joint statement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the governors suggest the action is a politically motivated hit from the President Trump administration.

“This is nothing more than a transparent politicization of the Department of Justice in the middle of the Republican National Convention,” the statement reads. “It’s no coincidence the moment the Trump administration is caught weakening the [Centers for Disease Control] COVID-19 testing guidelines to artificially lower the number of positive cases, they launched this nakedly partisan deflection. At least 14 states — including Kentucky, Utah and Arizona — have issued similar nursing home guidance all based on federal guidelines – and yet the four states listed in the DOJ’s request have a Democratic governor.”

The DOJ, through a news release, stated that four states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — all “required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing,” something Republicans in the Legislature have frequently claimed and the Whitmer administration has denied.

Nessel nixes ‘partisan’ federal request to probe Whitmer on nursing homes

“The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is evaluating whether to initiate investigations under the federal ‘Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act’, which protects the civil rights of persons in state-run nursing homes, among others,” the DOJ statement reads. “The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents.”

Michigan ranks 13th in the nation and the District of Columbia in the number of nursing homes deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Healthcare Safety Network. New Jersey; Massachusetts; Connecticut; Rhode Island; Delaware; Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania; Maryland; Mississippi, Arizona, Louisiana; and New York rank ahead of Michigan.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon in June issued an order regarding long-term care facilities. It required regular testing and timely and accurate reporting of cases, deaths, distribution of personal protective equipment and a plan to address staffing shortages.

“We’re doing everything in our power to protect nursing facility residents through mandatory testing, support for adequate staffing, and new efforts at infection control,” Gordon said at the time.

Nursing homes labor dispute continues amid pandemic 

In June, Attorney General Dana Nessel rejected federal GOP lawmakers’ request to investigate Whitmer’s executive order regarding COVID-19 impacts in nursing homes. 

“While I appreciate and share your concern for the impact of COVID-19 on the health and safety of our elderly population, I am curious as to why similar requests have not been sent to states with Republican Governors,” Nessel wrote in a letter to the the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

At the time, similar requests were sent to the attorneys general of states led by Democratic governors, including New York, New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania. 

Nessel, a Democrat, noted she’s investigated members of her own party, including the Whitmer administration for a now-terminated COVID-19 contact-tracing contract, but “unlike our current USAG, I will not utilize my prosecutorial authority for political ends-neither to pursue my enemies nor to protect my friends,” Nessel wrote on Twitter, in an apparent dig of U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who was tapped by U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to probe Whitmer’s coronavirus emergency actions.

The GOP-led Legislature has convened a special bipartisan panel to investigate the Whitmer administration’s COVID-19 response and has held several hearings on nursing homes.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.