Republicans urge Garland to probe COVID-19 deaths in New York group homes
A group of House Republicans from New York are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate whether the state’s directive on COVID-19 patients returning to group homes violated civil rights and if the state accurately reported coronavirus deaths in these facilities.
New York GOP Reps. Claudia Tenney, Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin, Chris Jacobs and Nicole Malliotakis on Wednesday sent a letter to the Justice Department arguing that “New York State’s Policies placed those with intellectual or developmental disabilities at increased risk of exposure to COVID, and we fear COVID-related deaths in group homes have been underreported.”
The letter follows sharp criticism from lawmakers in response to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office admitting to underreporting coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes.
Republicans and Democrats alike have called for investigations into Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, while lawmakers have also called for Cuomo to resign following sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior allegations levied against the governor from multiple women in recent weeks.
In Wednesday’s letter, the GOP representatives specifically reference an April 2020 directive from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), which stated, “No individual shall be denied re-admission or admission to a Certified Residential Facility based solely on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19.”
The lawmakers argue, however, that the directive’s “practical effect” was to “return COVID-positive patients who were no longer symptomatic to group homes.”
Thus far, the OPWDD has publicly reported 552 COVID-related deaths across New York’s more than 7,000 group homes, though the Republican lawmakers stated they “have reason to doubt New York State’s numbers given its poor track record of transparently sharing COVID-19 data.”
Given that the group home directive was similar to the one issued in March for nursing homes in the state, the New York Republicans argued that “the OPWDD must be scrutinized,” to determine the policy’s true impact on coronavirus cases and fatalities.
Tenney, who led the initiative from the GOP lawmakers, tweeted a copy of the letter Wednesday afternoon, writing, “When it comes to protecting the lives of the most vulnerable, especially our seniors & those with disabilities, we must demand full transparency.”
I’m leading several of my colleagues in requesting the U.S. Attorney General investigate group home COVID-19 deaths in our state.
When it comes to protecting the lives of the most vulnerable, especially our seniors & those with disabilities, we must demand full transparency. pic.twitter.com/ZhAG9qfxhi
— Congresswoman Tenney (@RepTenney) March 17, 2021
Stefanik, one of Cuomo’s most vocal critics, said in a press release announcing the letter, “Given the Governor’s reckless and reprehensible nursing home directive, and the cover up that ensued, we have reason to fear that the number of COVID-related deaths in group homes is higher than what the state has reported.”
“The DOJ must assess whether this harmful directive violates the civil rights of some of our most vulnerable and if the reported number of deaths in group homes is accurate,” she added.
@RepTenney @RepLeeZeldin @RepMalliotakis @RepJacobs and I just requested another Department of Justice investigation into Governor Cuomo – on his directive to return COVID patients to group homes for intellectually and developmentally disabled New Yorkers pic.twitter.com/oQ8FvW9wgK
— Rep. Elise Stefanik (@RepStefanik) March 17, 2021
The request for a Justice Department probe comes after the New York State Assembly last week said it would open an impeachment investigation into Cuomo in relation to the sexual harassment allegations and mishandling of nursing home data.
The Hill has reached out to Cuomo’s office for comment on Wednesday’s letter.