The U.S. federal government released a scathing report on Sept. 7 of how the state violated the 14th Amendment rights of residents at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Homes at Menlo Park and Paramus during the coronavirus pandemic.
The department found “reasonable cause” to believe the residents face “unreasonable harm and risk due to inadequate infection control practices and inadequate medical care” by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs which operates the homes, providing long-term nursing care to veterans and their families.
The inadequate infection control practices and inadequate medical care at the homes were compounded by a lack of effective management and oversight, according to the U.S. Department of Justice report. “Such deficiencies expose residents to uncontrolled, serious and deadly infections and have resulted in the veterans’ homes suffering among the highest number of resident deaths of all similarly sized facilities in the region,” the report stated. “Even by the standards of the pandemic’s difficult early days, the facilities were unprepared to keep their residents safe.”
“Those who served to protect this nation and their families are entitled to appropriate care when they reside at a veterans’ home,” U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger for the District of New Jersey said. “The Paramus and Menlo Park veterans’ homes fail to provide the care required by the U.S. Constitution and subject their residents to unacceptable conditions, including inadequate infection control and deficient medical care.”
“These conditions must swiftly be addressed to ensure that our veterans and their families at these facilities receive the care they so richly deserve. We will not stop working until they do.”
New Jersey’s assisted-living facilities – including its three state-run veterans’ homes in Paramus, Menlo Park, and Vineland – were some of the hardest-hit places anywhere in the country with at least 200 residents and staff members at the Paramus and Menlo Park dying from the virus.
Among the findings:
- The homes failed to group residents into cohorts according to their exposure to COVID-19, resulting in the commingling of infected and uninfected people;
- They didn’t properly use personal protective gear; and
- They failed to communicate effectively internally and did not maintain improvements achieved after the U.S. Veterans Affairs Departments came in to help, among other issues.
The report details a number of remedies the state should pursue, including implementing more robust infection control measures, providing better medical care on a day-to-day basis, maintaining more reliable data on health outcomes, and creating new oversight and accountability measures within the state Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs.
In a press statement, Gov. Phil Murphy called the report “ a deeply disturbing reminder that the treatment received by our heroic veterans is unacceptable and, quite frankly, appalling” and noted that over the past three years, his administration has instituted numerous processes and procedures to improve conditions, including most recently securing private management and assistance for these two homes.
“However, it is clear that we have significantly more work to do and we are open to exploring all options to deliver for our veterans the high level of care they deserve and are entitled to under the law,” said Murphy.
“We commend the Legislature for their partnership to help us improve conditions, and we will continue to work together in any capacity to provide world-class care and services to our heroes and support to those who care for them.”
Pennacchio’s Punch Back
But State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) lambasted Democrats and the governor’s administration’s handling of State-run veterans homes, saying the Murphy Administration failed “our veterans.”
“ From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of our heroes have died due to inadequate medical care and a lack of effective management and oversight,” said Pennacchio. “This report is so damning that even Joe Biden’s DOJ can’t spin how badly our Veterans homes were handled.”
“After three years of inaction from Democrats in the Legislature stonewalling calls for a comprehensive investigation, it is now time to hold this administration accountable for the harm done to veterans and nursing home residents.”
The Justice Department described the facilities’ cooperation with their investigation as “inadequate.”
While investigators were talking to witnesses, they were followed by state staff attorneys and facilities managers as state officials discouraged staff from talking to federal authorities. The report states that “after the first visit, the CEO of the Paramus site told department heads that DOJ could shut them down and they should be mindful of what they say.”
“This DOJ report is devastating. Our veterans risked their lives to defend this country but were left defenseless by this administration’s disastrous management of veterans homes during the pandemic,” Pennacchio added. “They should be ashamed of themselves and so should every Democrat who stonewalled legislative attempts to investigate these atrocities. The great veterans of New Jersey deserve so much better.”