To date, more than 7,000 residents of New Jersey nursing homes and long-term care centers (LTCs) have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Yet State Senators feel little has been done, leaving many to feel for the families whose loved ones died alone, and are calling for action and answers, to both learn what happened and be better prepared for health crises.
During a Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee hearing earlier this month, testimony was provided on the conditions in homes, and the impact of state policies. But many felt this only scratched the surface.
“There was some poignant testimony about conditions in the homes, but the source of the misery in these facilities was state public policy,” said State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26). “Without hearing from anyone from the health department or the (Murphy) Administration, the hearing’s good intentions fall short.”
Calls for Special Committee to Investigate
State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) supported the need for in-depth investigation.
“It’s clear we don’t have all of the tools at our disposal to fully investigate the tragic loss of life that has occurred or to ensure that the administration’s policy failures have been remedied,” said Corrado.
Along with their Republican Assembly colleagues, Corrado and Pennacchio have repeatedly called for the creation of a Senate Select Committee with subpoena power. The select committee would compel testimony from officials from the Governor’s office and Department of Health, among others.
Subpoena Power Sought
“The need for a Senate Select Committee with subpoena power was clear in May, and it’s necessary now more than ever as the pandemic continues and elderly nursing home residents remain at risk,” said Pennacchio. “Without subpoena power, we can’t hope to get to the full truth.”
Corrado seconded her colleague’s comments.
“To fully understand the decisions that led to the disaster within the walls of the state’s nursing homes and to develop all of the necessary reforms demands a special investigative committee with subpoena power,” she said.
Why Subpoena Power?
The need for subpoena power will both compel administration testimony, while also protecting whistleblowers who witnessed the devastation first-hand.
“[The] hearing is no substitute for the select committee review we seek, but it effectively highlighted exactly why a much deeper dive is necessary,” said Corrado. “We must have appropriate protections in place for the whistleblowers who desperately want to tell what they saw and experienced as the fatal virus spread through the isolated facilities. Without these invaluable tools, we will never understand the extent of failings behind the locked doors of these facilities.”
Five Months…and Counting
Five month is too long to wait, Pennacchio added.
“It has been five months since the virus outbreak and the first nursing home deaths, and we are just now hearing the first testimony on the subject,” said Pennacchio. “We can’t allow the failures that led to the loss of thousands of lives to be brushed under the rug without a robust, thorough investigation.”
Corrado added that families need answers.
“The family members of deceased residents deserve an opportunity to have their stories heard, and the nursing home workers deserve a forum to express themselves,” she said. “This preventable tragedy demands more than we could hope to achieve with today’s meeting,” said Corrado. “New Jersey’s nursing home residents remain at significant risk.”