LeDuff: Nessel Has Some Explaining to Do About Dodging Covid Controversy in Michigan Nursing Homes

March 18, 2021, 11:00 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

Attorney General Dana Nessel

Attorney General Dana Nessel has some explaining to do.

She claimed earlier this week that she consulted with the New York attorney general before deciding not to open a investigation into nursing home deaths here in Michigan. 

An aide to New York Attorney General Letitia James would not confirm or deny whether or when the two women discussed the probe. And Nessel's spokesperson said she was having difficulty reaching her at press time.

But James' aide did say that Nessel mischaracterized key facts about the nursing home investigation in New York, glaring mistakes that undermine her own arguments against a special investigation.

For instance, Nessel told a House committee this week in Lansing that the New York investigation was opened because there was probable cause after a “whistleblower” had come forward with information that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had manipulated the number of nursing home deaths.

Not true. There was no whistleblower.

How NY Probe Began

In fact, Cuomo himself directed the NY AG to set up a hotline last April  for nursing home concerns, which netted nearly 1,000 complaints in a six-month period. Those disconcerting calls led to a formal investigation of nursing-home safety and isolation practices during the pandemic. All this with Cuomo's blessing.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James

“He asked us to look into it and that's what we did,” said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing the political minefield Nessel has created. “The fact that the Cuomo administration downplayed the number of deaths was perhaps two pages in a 76-page report. This is ultimately about the treatment and care of the most vulnerable in New York.” 

Nessel also told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee: “We had no indication that there was a crime of any sort, which was absolutely not the case in New York.”

Again, not correct.

Nobody has been charged with any crime in New York relating to nursing-home data, policies or response, though the the federal authorities are now investigating Cuomo for covering up the data in the heat of the presidential election last summer.

“There have been no charges at all,” the aide said. “It was a report. That's it. A report. Our investigations do continue into the nursing homes, and that has always been our focus.”

And of course in Michigan there has been a cacophony of complaints. Just last week on my podcast, two nurses described the fetid conditions and the lack of state oversight in so-called “hubs,” nursing homes that under Whitmer's directive were allowed to house Covid-positive patients along with healthy people. 

The AG's office itself has said it received complaints about nursing homes during the pandemic, but that all were determined to reflect "quality of care" issues, and thus forwarded to the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

1,000-Plus Complaints

Macomb Prosecutor Pete Lucido

Macomb County Prosecutor Pete Lucido lets county residents file online complaints concerning the health and safety of nursing home residents and employees. Lucido says his office has received over 1,000 complaints since the page went up last week.

Nessel called Lucido's a nakedly partisan move and warned that it is a “recipe for misconduct.”

“I do take umbrage to some extent with an effort to ask people to bring evidence forward that you don't know exists,” Nessel told lawmakers.

And yet the New York Attorney General's office calls it a common practice to solicit complaints and information from the public. “We use complaint lines for a multiple of things,” said the aide. “A lot of work we accomplish, a lot of cases come from these tips.”

In the interest of truth, the state legislature should impanel a special prosecutor. Because the only lawyers in Nessel's office who seem to be working on a nursing home case are the two assigned to fight me on my Freedom of Information lawsuit.

Listen to Charlie LeDuff's weekly podcast on the No BS News Hour.

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