Mother mourns child who died of adenovirus outbreak at Wanaque Center

Modeline Auguste is left with reminders of her only child — cards from her birthday and Mother’s Day and drawings that her daughter made in school.

Auguste’s four-year-old daughter Dorcase was the first to die from a viral outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell.

So far, 33 patients and one staff member have been infected in the adenovirus outbreak — a virus that causes mostly respiratory illnesses.

“It’s concerning to continue to see it, but there is a long incubation period for adenovirus so it can be up to 14 days,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

Elnahal says the severe strain of virus combined with medically fragile patients plays into the tragic outcomes. Ten people have passed away so far.

Auguste says her daughter was living at the pediatric rehabilitation center for the past two years. She chose it because she wanted a place close to her house to be able to visit all the time. Auguste said she always bought clothes for her, even a special outfit for her daughter’s second birthday.

Auguste said on Oct. 4 she got a call that her daughter had a fever and blood in her trachea. She says she told Wanaque staff to send her to the hospital but was initially told no because the doctor was coming to see her at the facility. The next evening, she says her daughter was sent to the hospital. She died three days later from complications due to pneumonia.

“If they sent her to the hospital early she wouldn’t pass away,” she said.

There have been allegations brought forward by unnamed employees of the Wanaque Center who claim in a recent story that senior administrators delayed sending kids to the hospital to keep Medicaid funds ongoing.

“That’s why the people in there who are sick, very sick,” Auguste said. “When I go there before, I see her do that. The nurse was scared. She saw me coming.”

According to New Jersey’s Department of Human Services, the fee for service rate per day per patient on the pediatric unit at Wanaque is about $518. The New Jersey Department of Human Services confirmed that the Wanaque Center would only get paid for the days the patient was in their facility.

Elnahal says inspectors are on site looking into all claims. If they find them to be true they can pursue everything from fines to suspension of license.

“So we can’t transfer them safely to other facilities as well because that poses a risk to both them and other patients in those facilities, so our best bet right now is to continue to really press the staff to control spread of the virus,” Elnahal said.

Wednesday the state Department of Health announced they would require the Wanaque Center to hire a certified infection control practitioner and an approved physician with certification in infectious diseases. The facility also is no longer allowed to accept new patients until the center is able to prove they’ve followed all protocols.

“This facility in particular cannot do what we call cohorting, which is separating exposed and healthy patients from exposed and ill patients, and finally unexposed and healthy patients. Three separate cohorts is what you would normally do. This facility is not, because of their layout, able to completely do that,” Elnahal said.

The Attorney General’s Office would neither confirm nor deny whether there is an investigation underway. The Wanaque Center did not respond to requests for comment.