The Civil Right Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested information about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes from the state of Michigan.
The request, made on Wednesday, will help the department determine if it will open up an investigation under the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which will identify if the state orders requiring coronavirus-positive patients to be admitted to nursing homes were responsible for the deaths of residents.
“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 said in a statement. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”
Current policy in Michigan requires nursing homes segregate patients that have tested positive for COVID-19 in a separate unit.
Michigan has seen more than 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, according to data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded to the federal government’s request in a statement released late Wednesday.
“Protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of our seniors and most vulnerable residents has been a top priority throughout this crisis. The fact that this letter was sent during the middle of the Republican National Convention week to four Democratic governors should make it crystal clear that this is nothing more than election year politics by an administration that is more concerned with the president’s re-election campaign than protecting Michigan seniors,” said Tiffany Brown, a spokesperson for the governor. “We will review this letter and respond as appropriate, however, Americans would all be better served if the Trump administration stopped the partisan games and focused on delivering a real plan to defeat COVID-19.”
The DOJ emphasized that the data request is not an accusation of wrongdoing. It also requested information from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The department’s letter follows a similar call from an investigation from U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Coronavirus sent on June 25. That letter — also sent to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — requested Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel investigate the impact Whitmer’s coronavirus policies have had on long-term care facilities.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter at The Michigan Star and Star News Digital Media. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]