North Jersey GOP lawmakers slammed Gov. Phil Murphy after he signed an executive order mandating healthcare and high-risk congregate workers must be fully vaccinated with no test-out option
State Sens. Anthony Bucco and Holly Schepisi said the declaration from the governor will only increase the staffing issues group homes and long-term care facilities are facing.
“Nursing homes, group homes, and veterans homes are already struggling to find enough skilled staff to care for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents,” said Bucco (R-25). “By eliminating the testing alternative to vaccination for workers in these settings, Gov. Murphy is virtually guaranteeing that residents will face a shortage of caregivers. That will lead to unnecessary tragedies in facilities that have already sustained thousands of deaths during the pandemic.”
The executive order on Jan. 19 gives a deadline for those in the healthcare community by Jan. 27 to get their first vaccine dose and to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28. For those in high-risk congregate living facilities, they are required by Feb. 28 to get the first dose and March 30 for the second. As for those who are fully vaccinated but have not yet received their booster, healthcare workers are mandated to receive a third shot of Moderna or Pfizer or a second shot of Johnson & Jonson by Feb. 28 and high-risk congregate living facility workers by March 30.
“We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues and, perhaps I think even more importantly, those who are their responsibility, in danger of COVID,” said Murphy. “That has to stop.”
Bucco called the decision to eliminate the testing option “crazy” as residents in group homes and other congregate care facilities often have few options when the level of care deteriorates or their facility closes.
“With the high transmissibility of Omicron among the vaccinated, testing workers makes more sense than vaccination to keep LTC residents safe,” said Bucco. “I don’t understand why Governor Murphy would eliminate the option that appears to be the most dependable.”
Schepisi argued the new mandate will lead to a shortage of doctors and nurses in New Jersey in the aftermath of the Omicron surge and “certainly won’t be good for patients.”
“Doctors, nurses, and other medical caregivers have been fighting this fight against COVID-19 since the very beginning,” said Schepisi (R-39). “After nearly two years, they’re tired, they’re burnt out, and they’re ready for a break. Instead of giving them extra support, they’re getting another new mandate from Governor Murphy that will further thin their ranks and increase the workload of those who remain.”
Schepisi questioned the logic of the governor’s new order, pointing to an from Israel study that demonstrated that boosters and even a fourth dose of a COVID vaccine do little to protect against the transmission of the Omicron variant.
“The governor’s executive orders stopped being about science long ago,” said Schepisi. “There’s absolutely no data in support of this new executive vaccine mandate on health care workers. Even worse, Governor Murphy’s order may actually lead to greater spread of COVID in healthcare facilities by eliminating the testing option which with Omicron is proving to be a safer alternative to determine if someone is positive as vaccines have proven to be ineffective at stopping the transmission of this variant.”
Need to Work with Lawmakers
Additionally, Schepisi declared that the order was just the latest example of Murphy overreaching without policy decisions should be made in consultation with the Legislature. The GOP lawmaker noted eight counties have seen their infection rates drop by at least 40%, including Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth, Passaic, Somerset and Union counties.
“We’re at the stage of the pandemic where there’s no excuse to circumvent the legislative process,” added Schepisi. “While Omicron surged through New Jersey over the past month, this week the numbers have drastically declined. Nothing about this order is so urgent that it needs to be done today.”
“We should discuss this kind of policy change in an open and transparent manner, and we should give healthcare workers the opportunity to tell us their concerns. After everything they’ve been through, they know a hell of a lot more about the impact of this virus than Governor Murphy ever will.”
Operator, Family Concerns
Among that group to get feedback from, Bucco said he has spoken to the operators of a number of facilities and the families of residents and they all are extremely concerned about maintaining staffing levels and the quality of care.
“What’s Governor Murphy’s plan for backfilling critical positions when nursing and veterans home workers who have concerns about the vaccine are fired?” asked the Morris County lawmaker. “He better have an answer before he enforces another potentially disastrous order.”