Senate President Nicholas Scutari & Senator Joe Vitale | April 25, 2022 | NorthJersey.com |
As we grapple with the terrible toll COVID-19 has taken on our state, we continue to look for answers that will help us emerge from the public health crisis better prepared for any future threat.
Over two years after New Jersey saw its first case, we often look back on the early days of the pandemic in frustration and awe, realizing just how much damage was done, how much suffering was endured and how much was lost.
There are lessons to be learned that should teach us how to be better prepared and, most importantly, how to better protect our residents.
This is especially true for our most vulnerable residents, including those in nursing homes and veterans’ homes. Sadly, none experienced greater consequence than our long-term care facilities, where the Menlo Park and Paramus veterans’ homes reported some of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the country.
Even though we were still in the midst of the health crisis, the Legislature took action to investigate and identify the reasons behind the devastating events in the nursing homes and veterans’ facilities. In August of 2020 the Senate and Assembly held a joint hearing to address nursing home quality and accountability.
After the hearing, we called for the resignation of the Adjutant General and the replacement of the administrators at the state veterans’ homes in Paramus and Menlo Park. In the fall, they were replaced. Leadership and accountability are important when it comes to the health and safety of residents and workers in these facilities.
In addition, based on the findings from the hearing and the recommendations included in the Manatt Report, produced by a health care firm that assessed the response to the crisis by the state’s long-term care facilities, the Legislature drafted a series of reform bills for these facilities that were enacted throughout the 2020-2021 session.
The reforms included measures to improve infection control and prevention, prioritize patient care and quality, provide greater support to staff, and enhance emergency preparedness and COVID-19 response.
We produced a separate package of reform bills specifically aimed at better protecting veterans in the state’s care. The eight bills increase communications with family members, create safeguards to ensure administrators have proper qualifications and provide greater oversight and accountability.
While significant improvements have been made, we still believe more work must be done to improve the care at our veterans’ homes and long term care facilities and we will continue to advance legislative reforms to that end.
However, given the two ongoing investigations by the federal Department of Justice and the State Attorney General, now is not the time to conduct additional legislative hearings. The DOJ and the AG have far more resources at their disposal and we are confident in their ability to determine exactly who is responsible and what went wrong.
We look forward to reviewing the findings from their investigations. Further, we are open to holding hearings as appropriate after the release of the findings to help us determine next steps and hear from stakeholders on how to best implement the recommendations.
We are not closing the door on this issue — far from it — but rather we understand the role we have to play here in the legislature and we will do it in a responsible way. We will not allow our veterans, senior citizens and other long-term care residents to be abandoned or neglected.
They deserve the best care and the most dignified treatment – and we will ensure that.
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