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DOJ says no probe into state-run nursing homes in New York

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FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 file photo, nursing home residents wait on line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. The Justice Department says it's decided against opening up any civil rights investigations against government-run nursing homes in New York over their COVID-19 response, in a letter to members of U.S. Congress, Friday, July 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Justice Department has decided not to open a civil rights investigation into government-run nursing homes in New York over their COVID-19 response, according to a letter sent Friday to several Republican members of Congress.

Under former President Donald Trump's administration, the department's civil rights division requested data last August from four states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — about the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in public nursing homes.

The request came amid still-unanswered questions about whether some states, especially New York, inadvertently worsened the pandemic death toll by requiring nursing homes to accept residents previously hospitalized for COVID-19.

In a letter sent to several Republicans who had demanded an investigation, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joe Gaeta said civil rights division lawyers had reviewed the data sent by New York, along with additional information.

“Based on that review, we have decided not to open a CRIPA investigation of any public nursing facility within New York at this time,” Gaeta wrote, referring to the federal Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which empowers the Justice Department to investigate allegations about unlawful conditions in government-run residences.

The Justice Department sent similar letters earlier in the week to officials in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's spokesperson, Richard Azzopardi, declined to comment.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has previously accused Trump's Department of Justice of initiating the inquiry for purely political reasons. He has also defended the decision to bar nursing homes from rejecting COVID-19 patients during the worst weeks of the pandemic, saying the state was desperate at the time to move recovering patients out of overwhelmed hospitals.

Friday's letter doesn't address the status of other Justice Department inquiries into how the Cuomo administration handled data related to COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes.

Federal prosecutors have been examining the governor’s coronavirus task force and trying to determine whether the state intentionally manipulated data regarding nursing home deaths, The Associated Press previously reported.

More than 15,800 people have died in nursing homes and assisted living residences in New York. The state's original count of the dead had been much lower because it had excluded thousands of people who got infected in nursing homes, but died in hospitals.