Changes needed to improve NJ’s long-term care facilities

As coronavirus spread in New Jersey, families began desperately reaching out and asking for support for loved ones in long-term care facilities.

“It’s unacceptable the amount of people who are passing away. You know, families put their loved ones in these homes to be taken care of,” said Ursula Gerson.

The Andover Subacute rehab center caught national attention in early April when it was revealed the facility was hiding 17 bodies in a makeshift morgue. But complaints about lack of communication and personal protective equipment came from all over the state. Families blamed the facilities charged with caring for their loved ones, while legislators pointed to the Murphy administration.

“As quickly as possible, and it’s urgent at this point. We need a Senate investigatory committee with subpoena powers, appointed right now,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon. “We have the chronology of when the directive came down from the health department to the continuing health facilities that they had to take COVID positive patients. Or patients, purposely that they were told not to find out about the COVID status. It’s outrageous, and that came several days after New York’s directive. In between there was a health industry communication that said don’t do this, essentially, that had a link to CDC guidance that the health department should have been all over.”

O’Scanlon says New Jersey had time to learn from other states like Washington, where cases and deaths were reported as early as February.

Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli last month agreed to hire outside firm Manatt Health to review the state’s response. The report was released Wednesday with a number of recommendations.

“These are very feasible, which is why we want to get at this immediately, including with legislation,” Murphy said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

But O’Scanlon questions the integrity of the report altogether, citing its ties to the Democratic party, with some Manatt staff previously working for the Obama administration and some having contributed to Murphy’s primary campaign.

“Knowing what we know about it, knowing how the firm was retained, knowing the potential biases there, knowing what we already know from insiders within the department, the Manatt report was irrelevant before it was released,” O’Scanlon said.

NJ Advance Media reported the process of hiring the firm led to discord between Murphy and Persichilli. Allegedly, when she argued the price tag was too high, Murphy’s chief of staff reportedly responded, “Don’t worry about it, FEMA is paying for it.’”

That led Republican committee chair Doug Steinhardt to call for a federal investigation.

“From our standpoint, we don’t know if there were plenty of other opportunities and options to review contracts throughout the course of this entire process,” Steinhardt said.

But for now, the Manatt report does give the state guidance on how to improve the care of the 70,000 patients still living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Recommendations include things like creating a central long-term care emergency operations center and creating a hub of at least three facilities that can take COVID positive patients.