Masks were banned at NJ veterans homes? VFW wants investigation
There’s a renewed push for a special prosecutor to investigate the state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak at state-run veterans homes, as requested by the head of the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars.
A news release issued Monday by New Jersey VFW state commander Brian Wiener said that human resource managers were taking action against employees and banned vendors or visitors who wore masks inside the state operated veteran nursing homes, "despite advice from the Centers for Disease Control back in February that 'health care personnel should wear PPE including respirators when caring for confirmed or possible nCoV patients.'"
“While the New Jersey Attorney General continues to drag his feet in an investigation, the Massachusetts Attorney General has criminally charged and indicted two of their veterans’ home administrators back in September," Wiener said.
A Dec. 22 report by NorthJersey.com cited internal emails saying that the CEOs of the Paramus and Menlo Park veterans homes had been critical of mask-wearing by ambulance crews and some nurses at the two veterans homes at the start of the pandemic.
In April, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced an ongoing investigation of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on facilities with high numbers of COVID-related deaths and below-average track records for health inspections, staffing and quality of care.
“The investigation into such nursing homes and long-term care facilities is very much ongoing and we are following the facts wherever they lead,” a spokesman for Grewal's Office said to New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday. “As we stated in April, we encourage anyone with tips about suspected illegal activity or misconduct at any long-term care facility to use our online portal to submit information.”
COVID-19 vaccinations began Monday at Paramus Veterans Memorial Home, with plans for Vineland Veterans Memorial Home to receive vaccinations on Friday and Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison to receive its first round of doses on Jan. 5, Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed on Wednesday.
The VFW statement issued Monday said their "concerns to the Governor’s Office and Adjutant General fell on deaf ears and over 190 veterans under state care died as a result. “
When asked about the VFW's renewed call for a probe specific to the state-run veterans' homes, Murphy said at a remote news conference on Wednesday: “God bless our veterans - I don’t know where our country would be without 'em," while also noting that within the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, "we’ve made changes - you saw those changes were aggressive in leadership and done for a reason."
In mid-October, Murphy announced that he had replaced leadership at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the CEOs of the Paramus and Menlo Park Memorial Veterans homes — Matthew Schottlander and Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles, respectively.
Federal prosecutors launched an investigation into New Jersey's veterans homes in late October, faulting the state for not being forthcoming with information requested by the Department of Justice.
On Dec. 23, Murphy was asked by a reporter with the Bergen Record whether his office helped devise penalties early in the pandemic at those homes if staff wore masks out of their own actions.
“I believe this was not my office. I believe that this was about the protocol of how and when you could get a mask, I believe what that was about. I think this was a case with a lot of long-term care facilities. There was a very limited supply of PPE, and there needed to be a protocol that was pursued. That is what I believe it is," he said.
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