With a report that Murphy Administration has entered into a multi-million dollar settlement with families who lost loved ones at state-run veterans homes during the coronavirus pandemic, one North Jersey lawmaker is again pushing for a more comprehensive investigation and legislative oversight hearings.
“A handful of the mourning families may be satisfied with a monetary settlement, but there are thousands more who would rather have answers,” said State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) in a press statement. “At every turn, however, the Murphy administration has resisted the efforts of grieving families, legislators, and the press to understand why so many of our frail and elderly veterans and nursing home residents died needlessly.”
Pennacchio’s call comes as the state of New Jersey reportedly agreed to pay nearly $53 million to the families of 119 residents of state-run veterans homes whose deaths were attributed to the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.
Two of the veterans homes—one in Menlo Park and a second in Paramus—reported some of the highest COVID-related death tolls in the nation. As a result, the state sent in emergency assistance from the Veterans Administration and the National Guard to help care for residents of the homes.
The out-of-court resolution comes despite immunity granted to the New Jersey nursing homes early in the pandemic and to those “acting in good faith” in support of New Jersey’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“New Jerseyans are once again paying for the mismanagement of the pandemic by the Murphy administration,” said Pennacchio. “After 10,000 nursing and veterans home residents paid with their lives, millions of New Jersey taxpayers will be forced to pay with their wallets to settle claims of negligence and incompetence made against the administration.”
“The settlement is yet another attempt by the Murphy administration to prevent a full and transparent investigation into the tragic decisions that led to thousands of preventable deaths.”
Under the terms of the settlement as reported by NJ.com, the state will pay 60% of the settlement, or $31.7 million within 90 days of the receipt of all “closing papers” from all plaintiffs in the case. The total amount of the settlement is $52,955,000 and it is believed each family will receive about $450,000.
The actions of the veterans homes continue to be scrutinized by both federal and state investigators. The U.S. Depart of Justice investigation—begun under the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration—is looking at violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, focusing on whether the number of deaths in the veterans homes had been understated, and whether the state should not have ordered nursing homes to accept residents who had been treated for COVID-19 in a hospital.
The state investigation by the attorney general’s office is reportedly a wide-ranging look at how New Jersey’s long-term care facilities responded to the pandemic.
A leading state GOP critic of Murphy and officials in his administration for their actions during the pandemic, Pennacchio has repeatedly pushed for a Senate Select Committee to investigate the executive branch’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Morris County lawmaker has been stymied as Senate Democrats have blocked his efforts to bring the resolution (SR-68) up for a vote by the New Jersey Senate on five separate occasions over 19 months—including as recently as Dec. 20.
“Sadly, Democrats in the Legislature have been fully complicit in this cover-up,” opined Pennacchio. “Democrats initially agreed to join us in a bipartisan investigation, but that quickly changed when the Murphy administration pressured them not to start digging. It’s disappointing Democrats showed none of the courage of the veterans whose deaths they refuse to investigate. I’ll keep pushing for a thorough, bipartisan investigation for as long as it takes.”
As of Dec. 27, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,256,107 with 8,831 total new PCR cases. There were 1,214 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 197,540. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,453,647.
As for those that have passed, the state reported nine confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 26,020. The state listed probable deaths at 2,849, bringing the overall total to 28,869. State officials noted 28 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Dec. 27, Bergen had a total of 1,066 new confirmed cases and 119 new probable cases, Essex 1,219 new cases and 55 new probable case, Hudson 756 new cases and 52 new probable cases, Morris 417 new confirmed cases and 83 new probable cases, Passaic 698 new cases and 37 new probable cases, Sussex 101 new cases and 14 new probable cases, and Warren 53 new cases and five new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,893, followed by Bergen at 2,746, Hudson with 2,208, Passaic at 1,855, Morris at 1,073, Sussex at 291, and Warren County at 249.
In regards to probable deaths reported Dec. 27, Bergen has 312, Essex has 310, Morris has 270, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 73 and Warren has 26.
As for the rate of transmission reported Dec. 27, it jumped to 1.66 from 1.53 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Dec. 22 was 20.1%; by region, the rate was 21.5% in the North, 18.9% in the Central region and 16.0% in the South.
The state reported 2,654 patients were hospitalized in 69 of the state’s 71 hospitals reporting Dec. 27. By region, there were 1,221 in the North, 797 in the Central and 636 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 459 are in intensive care units and 234 on ventilators. A total of 209 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
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.
According to the state dashboard with 61% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 7,716 and new staff cases 2,092 in the last week as of Dec. 19. Cumulatively, 34,331 cases have been reported— 44,532 students and 10,274 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 84.6% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 89.9%, followed by Warren at 86.9%, Morris at 86.6%, Sussex at 85.8%, Passaic at 85.2%, Essex at 81.6%, and Hudson at 76.7%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Dec. 22, the state has tracked 336 school outbreaks and 1,889 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 42 outbreaks and 271 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 39 confirmed outbreak with 198 cases, Passaic County has 16 confirmed outbreak with 160 cases, Morris County has 27 confirmed outbreaks with 134 cases, Sussex has 25 confirmed outbreak with 121 cases, Essex County has 17 confirmed outbreak with 86 cases, Hudson County has 16 confirmed outbreaks with 63 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 304 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 3,098 of the cases, broken down between 1,180 residents and 1,918 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,082 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 34,977 residents and 24,908 staff, for a total of 59,885.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,751 on Dec. 27. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,055 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,924,624 in-state, plus an additional 506,171 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,439,795 as of Dec. 27.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,184,316 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 211,622 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,395,938.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,115,463 for Pfizer and 949,245 for Moderna. A total of 45,849 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,110,557 have received a booster or third shot.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 679,445 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 545,483, Hudson 487,192, Morris 367,239, Passaic 332,514, Sussex 88,191, and Warren 57,408.