Change to how long-term care facilities operate will be forthcoming in light of their performance to the coronavirus pandemic , promised Gov. Phil Murphy.
“The industry does not have it within themselves to make the changes they need,” said Murphy. “If they had, they would have done it already. I want to be definitive and unambiguous on that, and change will be coming.”
“There’s no question there’s long-term repercussions for this industry, period,” stated the governor. “We intend to hold folks accountable, as we should, and as you would want us to.”
The remarks came as Attorney General Gurbir Grewal delivered an update on his office’s investigation of New Jersey’s long-term care facilities spurred by care issues at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center.
As of May 5, long-term care facilities account for 50% of the deaths in the state with 8,244 and 17% of the COVID-19 cases with 22,602.
While acknowledging the pandemic has been the equivalent of a 500-year flood, Grewal said investigators are examining how operators responded “when those floodwaters started to rise” as well as action preceding it.
Grewal is looking into “if (operators) cut corners, if they, or anyone, for that matter, ignored red flags or warnings, if they lied to regulators or others, if they put profits over patients.”
To that end, the state is turning to the public to come forward with any information they have. The attorney general’s office has set up an avenue for the public to turn over documentation anonymously at covid19.nj.gov/LTC. The site allows for the reporting of firsthand knowledge of illegal activity or other misconduct at a long-term care facility, including documents, photographs or other materials directly using the portal.
“The goal of our investigations is to look backward and to determine what went wrong and if anyone did anything wrong or illegal,” said Grewal. “And if they did, we’ll hold them accountable.”
Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli said while state protocols were enacted after a deadly outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in 2018, the reality is the coronavirus overwhelmed the system.
“I don’t think anyone prepared us for the transmissibility of COVID-19 and I think early on in this outbreak…we realized we were dealing with something a lot more prevalent and virulent than we had expected,” said Persichilli. “But at that point, it was already in our facilities.”
Lessons of Wanaque
The commissioner said she reviewed a copy of the Wanaque report early in the outbreak when she started realizing there were significant issues in long-term care facilities. Outbreak plans for every long-term care facility as well as every facility having consulting infection preventionists were filed as recommended.
“All of that occurred. I have to say that the follow up based on Wanaque was in place,” said Persichilli.
Murphy added “It was execution of the plans as opposed to whether or not the plans were submitted and approved and blessed by (the Department of Health). It’s an uneven execution.”
Murphy recalled speaking with parents and loved ones who had residents in the Wanaque facility about the frustration of not being informed of what was happening.
“I think one of the biggest frustrations from Judy and me, every step of the way in terms of the uneven execution has been communication…to loved ones, to staff members, to other patients in these facilities,” said Murphy.
The governor noted the issue is a national one and hopes the solutions found in New Jersey can be a national model for mitigation, protection and resiliency for COVID-19 or a future pandemic.