A DEADLY DECISION? N.J. ordered long-term care facilities to take COVID-19 residents

TRENTON, N.J. – Roughly half of New Jersey’s reported COVID-19 deaths have occured in long-term facilities. The death toll stood at 4,691 as of Friday. 

The situation is made even more alarming now that a March 31, 2020 letter has come to light in which New Jersey’s top health official directed New Jersey’s long-term care facilities to accept new residents WITHOUT screening for COVID-19 status. Facilities were also explicitely prohibited from rejecting COVID-19 patients on that basis alone.

The letter signed by Judith Persichilli has arguably amounted to a death sentence for thousands of New Jersey’s most vulnerable. She cited Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 103 in offering the following directive:

“No patient/resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the post-acute care setting solely based on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Persons under investigation for COVID-19 who have undergone testing in the hospital shall not be discharged until results are available. Post-acute care facilities are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized patient/resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

The full letter can be viewed here. 

State Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) expressed his outrage on Friday over the situation.

“New Jersey has continually cited testing as a way to identify and respond to COVID-19. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense that we would specifically not want to test patients who would enter isolated nursing homes containing our most vulnerable population,” said Pennacchio.

“Applying science and reason, one would surmise that releasing a highly contagious pathogen in an isolated and vulnerable location, like a nursing home, could have devastating effects, and it did,” Pennacchio added. “The State of New Jersey has direct regulatory oversight over these nursing facilities. Although the population of nursing homes makes up less than 0.7% of the Garden State’s population, the 4,151 deaths in these facilities accounts for half of all New Jersey’s COVID-19 deaths.”

Calls for a formal investigation are starting to pile up.

“Our senior population is the most vulnerable demographic to this pandemic and it appears that Governor Murphy has cost thousands their lives and jeopardized the lives of an untold number more,” said New Jersey Republican State Committee Chairman Doug Steinhardt on Thursday. “The NJGOP calls upon the Senate President and Assembly Speaker to convene swift and thorough hearings into the Administration’s handling of New Jersey’s long term care facilities, what the State knew, when, and why New Jersey’s senior population was exposed to these risks.”

Meanwhile, on of the nation’s leading veterans groups continued to voice its outrage after previously blaming the Murphy Administration for failing to act.

“We restate our call for an immediate investigation by the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the VA Inspector General, and urge additional measures to protect residents,” said Barbara Kim-Hagemann, head of New Jersey’s department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “We ask that New Jersey’s entire Congressional delegation stand alongside us in protecting our most vulnerable veterans. Governor Murphy must restore the one million dollars to hospitalized veteran transportation program in his next budget and fill the vacancies on the New Jersey Veterans’ Memorial Home Advisory Councils.”