State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) again took aim at the Murphy Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic after published reports revealed managers at state-run veterans’ homes were paid COVID-19 bonuses they were not eligible to receive.
All three facilities—Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland— operated by the state’s veterans agency reportedly made inappropriate payments in 2020 despite warnings not to that led to the removal of the CEO’s at two of the locations.
“The audacity of these bungling bureaucrats to accept COVID payoffs after the horrors they brought on the residents and healthcare workers is beyond appalling,” said Pennacchio in a press statement. “Unfortunately, given the administration’s complete lack of transparency, it isn’t surprising. Repeatedly, the pandemic has been used as a shield to obscure questionable actions from public and legislative scrutiny.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, eight of the nine senior managers who earned too much to qualify for coronavirus-related hazard pay at New Jersey’s state-run veterans nursing homes received it anyway and more widely than previously acknowledged. Agency emails reportedly showed nursing-home managers procured the payments after being repeatedly told that they were ineligible.
The federal stimulus funds were meant for frontline state healthcare workers who were dealing directly with COVID-19 patients in dangerous conditions, not for administrators if they were simply performing their normal functions during the pandemic or those with salaries above a certain threshold.
“They didn’t care about the rules or doing the right thing, and they certainly didn’t think they would get caught,” said Pennacchio. “This was an intentional act, a money-grab that was an insult to the bedside-workers the money was intended to help and to the lives lost in mismanaged facilities.”
Paramus and Menlo Park veterans homes have been under investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office since September 2020. Detectives for the Bergen and Middlesex county prosecutors’ offices working on the attorney general’s probe interviewed relatives of deceased veterans-home residents and a veterans-agency employee this Spring.
In October 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy made changes when the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the agency in charge of overseeing the veterans’ homes, by removing Major General Jemal J. Beale, replacing him with Colonel Dr. Lisa J. Hou, D.O., as well as the administrators/CEOs at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Homes at Paramus and Menlo Park.
The three top Menlo managers, including former Chief Executive Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles, were fired as part the shake-up. At the agency’s Paramus facility, where about 90 residents’ deaths have been linked to Covid-19, two assistant CEOs reportedly received smaller payments for which they were ineligible, totaling about $2,500, which lead to the dismissal of that facilities head.
Select Senate Committee
“It is obvious the veterans home leadership was more concerned about their own wallets than the veterans and family members under their watch. It is tragic that these ‘managers’ didn’t apply the same energy and determination to protect the residents of their facilities and save lives,” Pennacchio commented. “Their pandemic performance was atrocious, and as a result the Menlo Park veterans home became one of the nation’s deadliest places for COVID-19.”
Pennacchio called yet again for his resolution creating a bipartisan select committee with subpoena power to review the Murphy Administration’s pandemic response efforts.
“The governor’s administration maintained secrecy through the duration of the pandemic,” said Pennacchio. “A Senate Select investigation could look behind the curtain and see what has really been going on. The veterans’ home revelation leads to this question: What else have they been hiding?”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 8,910,158 in-state, plus an additional 357,974 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 9,268,132 as of June 7. Of those who have received the vaccine, 4,203,583 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 168,949 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 4,372,532.
Demographically, 54% of those vaccinated are women and 46% men. As for ethnicity, 52% are White, 14% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 7% Black, 9% other and 8% unknown. In regard to the age of those having received the vaccine, 26% are 65 years old or olders, 28% are between the ages of 50-64, 29% are between the ages of 30-49, and 16% are between the ages of 12-29.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 975,958 doses (462,460 fully vaccinated), Essex 735,839 doses (342,596), Hudson 633,467 doses (289,717), Morris 580,193 doses (275,172), Passaic 451,677 doses (210,471), Sussex 135,063 doses (64,735), and Warren 87,777 doses (42,063).
As of June 7, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 889,108 with 165 total new PCR cases reported. There were 40 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 129,004. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,018,112.
As for those that have passed, the state reported six new deaths, bringing that total to 23,607. The state listed probable deaths at 2,678, bringing the overall total to 26,285. State officials noted that five deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on June 7, Bergen had a total of 15 new confirmed cases and one new probable case, Essex 14 new cases and three new probable cases, Hudson 13 new cases and 12 new probable cases, Morris 10 new cases and one new probable case, Passaic nine new cases and two new probable cases, Sussex two new cases and no new probable cases, and Warren two new cases and no new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,698, followed by Bergen at 2,574, Hudson with 2,075, Passaic at 1,728, Morris at 976, Sussex at 236, and Warren County at 211.
In regards to probable deaths reported June 2, Essex has 300, Bergen has 298, Morris has 259, Hudson has 215, Passaic has 198, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
As for the rate of transmission reported June 7, it increased to 0.71 from 0.69 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested as of June 2, was 1.1%; by region, the rate was 1.2% in the North, 0.9% in the Central region and 1.0% in the South.
Officials reported 430 patients were hospitalized; 368 cases were confirmed and 63 are under investigation. By region, there were 204 in the North, 106 in the Central and 120 in the South.
Of those hospitalized, 102 are in intensive care units and 61 on ventilators. A total of 44 patients were discharged, while 41 were admitted.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
Bergen Tops County Count
Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 89,795, followed by Middlesex at 84,820, Essex at 84,691, Hudson at 78,789, Monmouth at 67,472, Ocean at 65,662, Passaic at 65,612, Union at 60,436, Camden at 48,994, Morris at 41,875, Burlington at 38,250, Mercer at 31,625, Gloucester at 26,549, Atlantic at 24,934, Somerset at 24,280, Cumberland at 14,874, Sussex at 11,691, Warren at 8,957, Hunterdon at 8,912, Salem at 5,574, and Cape May at 4,618.
In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 14,614, followed by Union at 11,029, Ocean at 10,219, Essex at 9,481, Hudson at 9,237, Morris at 8,275, Monmouth at 8,107, Middlesex at 7,480, Passaic at 7,373, Camden at 6,681, Atlantic at 6,633, Burlington at 5,954, Somerset at 5,768, Cape May at 4,583, Gloucester at 4,016, Mercer at 2,409, Sussex at 2,313, Cumberland at 2,264, Warren at 1,027, Hunterdon at 898, and Salem 538.
Another 725 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 94 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 2,243 of the cases, broken down between 900 residents and 1,343 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,471 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,758 residents and 22,223 staff, for a total of 54,981.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,057 on June 7. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,869 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.