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Feds won't probe public nursing homes over COVID-19 handling

Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens during a news conference

Gov. Andrew Cuomo listens during a news conference in New York on Sept. 14, 2018. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Friday said it will not open an investigation into any New York public nursing homes for "unlawful conditions" after the state ordered them to accept residents that had been treated for COVID-19.

In letters to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and three other governors who had ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients, the division said it would not pursue public nursing home investigations in New York and two other states.

But the letter said it had opened a probe of two public nursing homes in New Jersey.

The scope of the civil rights review included New York’s couple dozen state-owned or operated nursing homes, but not New York’s more than 600 privately operated nursing homes.

Richard Azzopardi, a senior aide to Cuomo, declined to comment.

Last August, the Civil Rights Division requested extensive information from the New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey about the number of staff and residents who contracted and died from COVID-19 at public nursing homes to determine whether to open investigations — and the states complied.

"Based on that review, we have decided not to open a CRIPA investigation of any public nursing facility within New York, Pennsylvania, or Michigan at this time," according to the letter from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Joseph Gaeta.

But it is not clear what the letter means for another federal investigation, one that sources said was triggered by statements made by secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa in a Feb. 10 meeting with legislators, during which she acknowledged the administration had delayed providing information of nursing home deaths to the State Legislature.

That federal investigation being conducted under the supervision of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, based in Brooklyn, targets the Cuomo administration, unlike the Civil Rights Division’s focus on public nursing homes.

The Justice Department did not respond to a query.

News of the Justice Department’s declining to pursue the investigation spawned sharp responses from critics of Cuomo.

New York Senate Republican leader Robert Ortt said in a statement that the federal investigation of the Cuomo administration continues and charged, "His administration lied and then covered it up. Then he lined his own pockets with $5.1 million dollars for his ‘COVID leadership’ book."

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the Republican front-running challenger to Cuomo next year, attacked the Justice Department and Cuomo.

"The Department of Justice has now chosen to willfully participate in the effort to deny the public answers and accountability," he said in a statement. "Adding this to the book deal and Emmy Award, the DOJ’s decision is yet another gift to a corrupt governor, turning a blind eye to the facts, the victims and the public interest."

With Michael Gormley

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