A trio of bills designed to help veterans homes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were passed by the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
The three pieces of legislation were crafted in response to conditions at the facilities at the beginning and height of the coronavirus pandemic in New Jersey, with provisions designed to provide better information to families.
Additionally, resident advocates and weekly reports would be required under two of the three pieces of legislation. The proposed laws were put together following the deaths of 200 New Jersey veterans at these facilities during the pandemic.
“Over the past year, we have spoken with family members, staff, and other individuals involved in our state veterans’ homes to gain a better understanding of how we can prevent the tragic loss of life that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic from ever happening again,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37).
Resident Advocates at Facilities
Under all the bills, the state’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would be responsible for implementation and maintenance of the new rules.
Assembly members Vincent Mazzeo (D-2), John Armato (D-2), and Annette Chaparro (D-33) introduced legislation that would assign a resident advocate to each facility in the state.
The advocate would act as a liaison between the home and its residents, and would be readily available to receive complaints from residents and respond to any concerns or grievances they may have. The advocate would have the ability submit those concerns to the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
“The veterans in our memorial homes may not always be in a position to advocate for themselves and might need someone else to advocate on their behalf,” saidChaparro is a press statement with her two Assembly colleagues. “Assigning a resident advocate to each home to serve as a point of contact for our veterans will make it easier for them to share any concerns or grievances they may have.”
“After everything our veterans have done for this country, they have earned our utmost respect and gratitude. A resident advocate in these homes will help ensure our veterans receive the proper care and treatment they deserve.”
One of the bills would address issues families had with accessing information on residents during the height of the pandemic. It would mandate quarterly meetings with veterans’ guardians.
Increased Reporting, Information Sharing
Additionally, legislation sponsored by Vainieri Huttle with Assemblywomen Linda Carter (D-22), and Cleopatra Tucker (D-28) would mandate weekly reporting on the status of veterans facilities when under a public health emergency.
“One of the key takeaways was the importance of timely and transparent communication,” saidVainieri Huttle in a joint statement with Carter and Tucker. “If state officials are left in the dark about how our veterans’ homes are handling a crisis, they cannot provide assistance to help manage and mitigate its effects.
The report would include information on the number of residents and staff in each home, any significant health risks they face, and the amount of personal protective equipment available to them in addition to information on any changes in operating procedures due to the public health emergency.
“Requiring weekly reports on the status of these facilities during a public health emergency would ensure the Department of Health receives the information it needs to help save the lives of our veterans in the event of any future emergencies,” said the Assemblywomen.
The bills come in the wake of the The Wall Street Journal reporting that 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.
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 prosecutor’s offices working on the attorney general’s probe interviewed relatives of deceased veterans-home residents and a veterans-agency employee this Spring.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 9,435,844 in-state, plus an additional 565,742 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 10,001,586 as of June 21. Of those who have received the vaccine, 4,553,2579 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 248,347 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 4,801,626.
Demographically, 54% of those vaccinated are women and 46% men. As for ethnicity, 51% are White, 15% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 7% Black, 9% other and 8% unknown. In regards 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 18% are between the ages of 12-29.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,031,532 doses (500,519 fully vaccinated), Essex 787,072 doses (376,152), Hudson 680,493 doses (319,774), Morris 605,989 doses (293,104), Passaic 485,235 doses (231,419), Sussex 140,900 doses (68,907), and Warren 91,629 doses (44,709).
As of June 21, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 891,483 with 126 total new PCR cases reported. There were 42 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 129,825. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,021,308.
As for those that have passed, the state reported three new deaths, bringing that total to 23,687. The state listed probable deaths at 2,690, bringing the overall total to 26,377. State officials noted three deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that has not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on June 21, Bergen had a total of seven new confirmed cases and seven new probable case, Essex 13 new cases and no new probable cases, Hudson seven new cases and six new probable cases, Morris three new cases and one new probable cases, Passaic 12 new cases and two new probable cases, Sussex five new cases and no new probable cases, and Warren had one new case and one new probable case.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,713, followed by Bergen at 2,580, Hudson with 2,082, Passaic at 1,732, Morris at 978, Sussex at 237, and Warren County at 211.
In regards to probable deaths reported June 16, Essex has 300, Bergen has 299, Morris has 261, Hudson has 215, Passaic has 199, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
As for the rate of transmission reported June 21, it increased to 0.99 from 0.94 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested June 14, was 0.9%; by region, the rate was 0.9% in the North, 1.0% in the Central region and 0.9% in the South.
Officials reported 305 patients were hospitalized; 233 cases were confirmed and 72 are under investigation. By region, there were 135 in the North, 89 in the Central and 81 in the South.
Of those hospitalized, 64 are in intensive care units and 32 on ventilators. A total of 27 patients were discharged, while 33 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 90,022, followed by Middlesex at 85,047, Essex at 84,846, Hudson at 79,005, Monmouth at 67,715, Ocean at 65,872, Passaic at 65,844, Union at 60,570, Camden at 49,101, Morris at 41,989, Burlington at 38,332, Mercer at 31,714, Gloucester at 26,611, Atlantic at 24,972, Somerset at 24,353, Cumberland at 14,909, Sussex at 11,746, Warren at 8,981, Hunterdon at 8,951, Salem at 5,548, and Cape May at 4,639.
In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 14,698, followed by Union at 11,088, Ocean at 10,357, Essex at 9,572, Morris at 8,307, Monmouth at 8,099, Middlesex at 7,520, Passaic at 7,430, Camden at 6,731, Atlantic at 6,651, Burlington at 5,990, Somerset at 5,818, Cape May at 4,608, Gloucester at 4,040, Mercer at 2,430, Sussex at 2,336, Cumberland at 2,283, Warren at 1,031, Hunterdon at 903, and Salem 536.
Another 716 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 38 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,344 of the cases, broken down between 388 residents and 694 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,476 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,774 residents and 22,213 staff, for a total of 54,987.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,060 on June 21. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,877 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.