While the state is lifting some of its coronavirus restrictions today and opening restaurants for limited outdoor dining, Senator Joe Pennacchio raised concerns that the 6,000 nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 are being forgotten.
“If the state doesn’t learn from our mistakes, we will repeat them,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “We know things in our nursing homes went bad in a hurry, and we know that 6,000 vulnerable seniors died in forced isolation, unable to see their families for one last time. We know costly errors were committed, the Administration has been anything but forthcoming, and New Jersey residents have a long laundry list of questions that demand answers.”
Pennacchio’s comments come on the heels of report published by Gannett on the outcome of a taxpayer-funded study of nursing home preparedness conducted by Manatt Health.
The article said: “New Jersey leads the nation in deaths per capita at nursing homes right now for many different reasons, but poor planning, communication and questionable policies likely exacerbated the misery for thousands of families, health officials and experts said.
“Yet much of that concern over how the state prepared for and responded to the COVID-19 outbreak was excluded or glossed over in a half-million dollar report released this month that Gov. Phil Murphy, along with his health commissioner, called ‘exhaustive, in-depth’ and ‘thorough.’”
Pennacchio said what was glaringly absent from the report was the reason why – and how many – COVID-infected patients were interjected into the long-term facilities.
“We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know before. We wasted so much taxpayer money on a whitewash job,” said Pennacchio. “The Manatt report stated the obvious: Not enough personal protection gear because it was being prioritized to hospitals, underpaid staffs that were to small and untrained to do the job, and a disconcerting lack of inspection and guidance from state officials.”
Pennacchio noted that Florida, when faced with similar problems, prioritized the treatment of elderly and vulnerable patients in long-term facilities.
“As a result, Florida had only one-quarter the nursing home deaths we suffered in New Jersey,” said the Senator. “Florida had no need for a taxpayer-funded Manatt study to tell them what to do.”
“The Manatt report was an injustice to the 6,000 souls lost in long-term care facilities and their families,” continued Pennacchio. “A real-time legislative investigation with subpoena power is the only way we’re going to understand the mistake and prevent this from happening again.”
Pennacchio’s list of most-pressing questions
- Hospitals are saying they count deceased nursing home patients as hospital deaths. Why? What are the accurate numbers of nursing home and hospital deaths?
- When nursing home workers were lost to COVID-19, why weren’t they included in nursing home deaths?
- Where is the data the Governor says he uses to make decisions? Where are the numbers? Where is the science? What is he basing his decisions on? These are the same questions being asked by whistleblowers in the state Department of Health.
- Why did New Jersey fail to adjust after Washington State’s nursing home experience? After the outbreak near Seattle, everybody knew seniors were most vulnerable, and the virus was a deadly threat in nursing homes.
- The state released prisoners because they knew a virus in a confined space would wreak havoc in those institutions. Why did they think less of residents in long-term nursing facilities?
- Why was COVID-19 testing prohibited on residents entering nursing homes? What information supported the fateful decision to place COVID-positive patients inside overwhelmed and under-prepared nursing facilities?
- While conditions in nursing homes were spiraling out of control, help was available nearby with thousands of beds at a temporary hospital at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, the U.S. Navy’s Comfort hospital ship, and thousands of additional medical personnel sent to the bi-state area by the federal government. Why didn’t the state utilize help available from the U.S. government?
- Why were state inspectors kept out of nursing home facilities for over a month at the start of the pandemic?