Criminal Charges Unlikely In Federal Probe

CHAMBERSBURG – Criminal charges are unlikely to be filed by federal investigators probing the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by Pennsylvania and other states.

Wednesday, the U.S Department of Justice requested data from governors in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Those administrations have come under fire for requiring nursing homes to admit COVID-19 patients to their vulnerable populations, often without adequate testing. 

Clint Barkdoll, an attorney with Kulla, Barkdoll & Stewart PC, said the law under which the government is acting only prescribes civil remedy.

“The penalties can still be substantial,” Barkdoll said. “If there is evidence of criminal conduct, that would be a whole separate matter and a different investigation.”

Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, speaks during a press conference addressing the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Pennsylvania, inside PEMA headquarters on Tuesday, August 18, 2020.

The Department of Justice’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.

“The Department of Justice has four items of information,” said Barkdoll. “Governor Wolf has 14 days to supply this information. As you might expect the information is consistent with all of the things we have been suspicious of for months.”

Investigators are focused on how many people were admitted to nursing homes directly from a hospital or another facility after they had tested positive for COVID-19 and how many residents, employees, and other staff died of the coronavirus.

Long-term care facilities represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they account for 42% of the COVID-19 deaths, with more than 70,000 fatalities reported by the COVID Tracking Project.