the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Trenton NJ, Senator Steven Oroho, Senator Joe Pennacchio, Senator Declan O’Scanlon, and Senator Kristin Corrado said the evidence is mounting that thousands of deaths in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities were preventable and called on Senate President Steve Sweeney to initiate legislative hearings to prevent a repeat of the tragedy should New Jersey be hit by a second wave of COVID-19.
“The state and nation were shocked when news reports broke of dozens of deaths at Andover Subacute, a long-term care facility in Sussex County,” said Oroho (R-24). “It’s increasingly apparent that the tragedy that occurred in Andover and at nursing and veterans homes across New Jersey didn’t need to happen. Staff at many facilities warned that they were ill prepared for an outbreak, lacking the personal protective equipment, tests, and ability to segregate sick residents necessary to keep their vulnerable populations safe. By not taking the proper precautions, the administration failed these at-risk residents. We want to work cooperatively with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to understand what went wrong with the administration’s response to help ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
A review of the State’s handling of long-term care facilities by The Record shows an administration that was “unprepared and overwhelmed.” As a result of repeated failures to heed warnings and take reasonable precautions, 5,408 of New Jersey’s 10,435 deaths due to the coronavirus have occurred in the Garden State’s long-term care facilities, according to New Jersey’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
Pennacchio highlighted one critical failure that he said needs to be better understood, a March 31st directive to long-term care facilities from New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. In the letter, the commissioner ordered that “no patient/resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the post-acute care setting based solely on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.” Further, the commissioner ordered that “post-acute care facilities are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized patient/resident who is determined to be medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
“Not only were New Jersey’s long-term care facilities prevented from testing patients for COVID-19 prior to admittance, they actually were ordered by the Murphy Administration to accept patients who were known to have tested positive,” Pennacchio (R-26) stated. “It’s shocking that the commissioner didn’t realize her order was tossing a match into dry grass. The wildfire of infection that burned through our long-term care facilities after her order was nothing less than devastating. The souls of more than 5,400 victims of COVID-19 in our nursing and veteran homes are crying out and their families deserve to know what went wrong, and they deserve to know that the New Jersey Legislature is taking steps to prevent it from happening again.”
The commissioner’s initial orders to long-term care facilities are in opposition to the current recommendations of Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon and professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. In a recent New York Times editorial, he wrote: “Nursing homes should be not be allowed to house any Covid-19 patient unless the facility has isolation rooms and sufficient protective equipment, and tests all employees and residents for the coronavirus at least twice a week. Moreover, hospitals should be prohibited from transferring Covid-19 patients to nursing homes, a common transmission vector that has caused outbreaks in recent weeks.”
“When more than half of New Jersey’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in our long-term care facilities, it’s clear that mistakes were made,” added O’Scanlon (R-13). “While we can’t change the past, we can ensure that the administration’s policies for preventing and responding to COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities accurately represent the current recommendations of public health experts going forward. We need to make sure that nursing homes have all of the testing they require along with any needed support from the State to segregate sick residents to prevent new outbreaks. Additional oversight by the Legislature is in everyone’s best interest, including the governor’s.”
The Senate Republican caucus wrote to the Senate President last week calling for the formation of a Senate Select Committee to investigate the Murphy’s Administration’s response to COVID-19, including the orders that all but guaranteed the loss of life in long-term care facilities.
“While we believe the wider State response to this public health emergency warrants a detailed review by the Legislature at some point in the future, it’s clear that the Senate cannot delay a thorough investigation of the administration’s massive failure to protect our long-term care facilities,” Corrado (R-40) concluded. “With infection rates and hospitalizations declining, we certainly hope that New Jersey is past the worst of COVID-19. Still, we must ensure that New Jersey’s long-term care facilities are prepared for the possibility of a second wave. We’re not looking to engage in a partisan witch hunt, we’re asking the Senate President to join us in a productive effort that will help save lives.”