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Justice department rightly reviewing nursing home data

Gov. Tom Wolf, along with governors of New York, New Jersey and Michigan, has been asked to supply COVID-19 data for public nursing homes to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The data will help the Department of Justice decide if it will initiate investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act regarding state responses to the coronavirus in public nursing homes.

Specifically, the department’s Civil Rights Division will look into whether state orders requiring admission of COVID-19 patients to nursing homes is responsible for the deaths of nursing home residents.

The four states each required nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing. The death toll in nursing homes, particularly early on in the pandemic, has been well-documented.

“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 Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “We must ensure they are adequately cared for with dignity and respect and not unnecessarily put at risk.”

He is on point. But we must acknowledge our entire society was caught off guard when COVID-19 hit our shores. We can do a lot of finger-pointing, but finger-pointing just makes for an ugly political mess.

Our energies would be better spent on maintaining the health in our nursing homes — and our communities — now that we know the deadly ramifications of this virus.

We also need compassion for those who have been pent up in nursing homes with limited contact with the outside world and find ways to help them. Talk to someone with a loved one in a nursing home and you’ll realize how dire their situation has become. They are missing the human touch of family. It’s an unfortunate balancing act that has been beyond difficult, yet the limitations and a stepped-up response have curbed the deaths in nursing homes.

The department points out that the data requests are not accusations of fault or wrongdoing by the states or any individual or entity, and it has not reached any conclusions.

But if justice officials do find evidence that any states took actions with reckless disregard for their impact, then the state administrations must be held accountable.

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