Washington – Three Michigan Republican lawmakers ask government watchdog to formally review US Department of Justice decision not to open civil rights investigation into COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes Michigan nurses.
U.S. Representative Lisa McClain, of the Township of R-Bruce, wrote to Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Monday, noting that officials last year requested data from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as GOP lawmakers were raising questions about orders issued for nursing homes in some Democratic-led states.
This data request came in the middle of the presidential campaign. This stems from the debate over public health policies put in place by several governors as institutions struggled to treat elderly patients with the virus in nursing homes at a time when hospitals were taxed by COVID cases.
The Whitmer administration at the time called the Justice Department letter of August 2020 “nothing more than election year politics.”
McClain, joined by Republican Representatives Tim Walberg of Tipton and Bill Huizenga of Holland, said the DOJ’s decision not to investigate the nursing home problem affected thousands of people in Michigan, saying “families across the state are demanding answers as to why their loved ones were locked up. in facilities with people with COVID. ”
“Last year it looked like the Justice Department was finally going to get answers from Governor Whitmer for the people of Michigan. On July 22, 2021, that hope vanished with the department’s decision,” lawmakers wrote .
They want Horowitz to find out who made the final decision not to investigate, what data the department asked Whitmer to “exempt” from any wrongdoing, and whether anyone in the Biden administration or the The president’s office at the White House was in contact with the DOJ. officials about it.
They also requested an in-person briefing at Horowitz’s office on whether he chooses to open an investigation.
In June, the Justice Department informed Whitmer’s office that it would not open an investigation into Michigan public nursing facilities “at this time” based on the Civil Rights Act. institutionalized.
“We have reviewed the information you provided as well as the additional information available to the department,” wrote Steven Rosenbaum, head of the special litigation section of the department’s civil rights division, in a letter to legal counsel in Whitmer leader, Mark Totten.
“Based on this review, we have decided not to open a CRIPA investigation into a public nursing facility in Michigan at this time.”
The Whitmer administration said state officials were following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect residents of long-term care facilities.
“I want to be clear: at no time have nursing homes been forced to take COVID-positive patients,” Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy told the Detroit News after the decision was announced. of the DOJ.
“Instead, we made the smart decision to demand that residents who have contracted this deadly disease be kept as far away from others as possible to prevent more people from falling ill.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, also refused to probe the policies of state nursing homes during the pandemic, which have been at the center of Republican attacks for more than a year.
In March, Nessel concluded that State Senator Jim Runestad, a Republican from White Lake, had provided insufficient basis that “every law has been broken” by calling for an inquiry into nursing home policies.
Runestad had argued that Whitmer’s regional hub policy could have increased the death toll at those hubs by placing patients with and without COVID-19 in the same facilities.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had designated regional centers in April 2020 to help care for nursing home residents with the virus.
The hubs were created in existing nursing homes that were supposed to set up isolated spaces, equipment and staff to care for people with COVID who were discharged from hospitals or resided in other facilities that could not have them. handle properly.
GOP lawmakers had called for the state to require separate facilities to take care of people with COVID-19.
Writer Craig Mauger contributed.