With the federal government threatening to cut off funding, the Murphy Administration announced on Nov. 22 it is sending additional support staff to the Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park to offer guidance and support in making improvements.
The Mission Critical Team sent in by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is composed of experienced healthcare administrators and infection preventionists to the facility to offer guidance and support in making improvements, according to state officials. Two of the Mission Critical Team members have arrived on-site to begin assisting the home while the third member will arrive within the next week.
The move comes after state health inspectors were sent to the Menlo Park facility after it was revealed in August that a large COVID-19 outbreak starting around Thanksgiving 2021 had resulted in the deaths of another 19 veterans. A published report found that 45% of the workforce and one-third of the residents at Menlo Park were infected due to a failure to quickly implement infection controls once people started getting sick.
In addition to finding “a serious and immediate threat to the safety and well-being” of residents, inspectors found untrained caregivers and instances of physical and verbal abuse of residents.
As a result of that report, federal authorities demand action or threatened to cut off payment for all new admissions at Menlo Park beginning Nov. 22 and the state-run nursing home could be terminated from all Medicare and Medicaid programs, absent major changes there within the next six months.
“The facility has been notified that, unless substantial compliance is achieved prior to November 22, 2022, a discretionary denial of payment for all new admissions may become effective,” a U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesman said Nov. 15. “Additionally, unless substantial compliance is achieved by March 8, 2023, the provider may be terminated from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Murphy Administration officials said the goal of the team will be to collaborate with the facility leaders and staff to improve quality of care through mentoring, coaching, and sharing of operational and clinical best practices.
“While my administration has taken important steps to improve the performance and strengthen the resiliency of our veterans memorial homes over the past few years, it is clear our work is not done,” said Murphy. “The Department of Health’s inspection of the Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park has given us crucial insight into the challenges currently facing this facility.”
The three-member team, which works within NJDOH’s Office of Long-Term Care Resiliency, includes an administrator and a nurse consultant—who have already arrived at the facility—and an infection control preventionist, who will join the other team members at Menlo Park on Nov. 28.
“The department sent this team to collaborate with leaders and staff to improve and sustain the quality of care in the veterans home,” said NJDOH Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “The team has already begun their assessment and collaboration with onsite staff to make needed improvements.”
The team will spend a minimum of one month at the Menlo Park facility, reviewing all processes and embedding best practices for long-term and ongoing improvements, according to state officials. During this period, DOH’s Infection Control Assessment & Response team will be onsite to support resident and healthcare personnel safety and quality improvement.
Murphy said the move at Menlo Park shows his administration must hold state-owned facilities to the same standards we hold privately-owned long-term care facilities.
“It is our solemn duty as a state to protect the health and well-being of the veterans in our care—the very veterans who once put their lives on the line to protect this nation,” he said. “My administration remains firmly committed to this objective.”
Care at long term care facilities, both private and state run, have come under scrutiny from legislators since the very beginning of the pandemic. Lawmakers have been critical and sought answers from the Murphy Administration in regards to the March 2020 directive for those who tested positive for COVID and discharged from hospitals that were being overrun at the time to return to their long-term care facilities in the Garden State.
Murphy has strongly defended the plan, placing the blame on operators for not following the orders that COVID patients should have been isolated in their room as well as devoting separate sections for those that were sick. But the state the has already settled 190 claims by victims’ families at veterans homes to the tune of $69 million. And it faces at least 41 lawsuits have been filed recently by employees of the homes claiming that a cascading series of poor decisions by administrators led to their getting ill.
But Republicans, led by State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26), have called for a legislative inquiry that includes subpoena power to get a fuller picture of the decisions made by state officials and have grown weary of a promised post-mortem by the governor.