WASHINGTON, DC -- The Department of Justice requested COVID-19 data from the governors of New Jersey and three other states that issued orders which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of elderly nursing home residents.

According to the Justice Department, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing. Nearly half of New Jersey's 14,134 COVID deaths statewide occurred at long term care facilities. 

“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. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”

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Since the pandemic began, Gov. Phil Murphy has faced criticism -- notably from former Gov. Chris Christie and other Republicans -- for his handling of nursing homes in the state. During his August 10 press briefing, he addressed the issue.

"Judy (Persichilli, NJ Health Commissioner) was crystal clear, explicit, about any reintroduction of COVID-positive residents into long-term care facilities. It could not have been clearer, and that is cohort separate into different floors including staff, different buildings, different wings," Murphy said. "Many came to us and said 'Listen, we can’t do that. Can you help us find a place for these COVID positive patients?' We did exactly that."

"It is crystal clear what our directives were as it relates to long-term care in COVID-19 positives and -- whether it’s Governor Christie or any other smart-aleck who says it was one thing when it was another -- give us a break," he continued. "There will be a full review of every step we have taken but the directives about COVID positive patients or residents being reintroduced to facilities was black and white, crystal clear. If folks violated it, they will pay a price."

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is evaluating whether to initiate investigations under the federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act” (CRIPA), which protects the civil rights of persons in state-run nursing homes, among others. The Civil Rights Division seeks to determine if the state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents.