TRENTON, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy this week dodged questions from Shore News Network regarding the state-induced deaths of nearly 7,000 senior citizens living in nursing homes and long term care facilities after a March order by the state forced those homes to accept sick and recovering COVID-19 patients. The end result of that order was widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 and deaths in those facilities.
Murphy denied responsibility for that March decision and order signed by Judith Persichili, Director of the New Jersey Department of Health. You can view that order here.
In that order, Murphy and Persichili ordered that no patients infected with COVID-19 could be refused entry to any long term care facility.
“No patient/resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the post-acute care setting solely based on a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Persons under investigation for COVID-19 who have undergone testing in the hospital shall not be discharged until results are available. Post-acute care facilities are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized patient/resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission,” the order directed to the nursing home industry declared. “During this global health emergency, all post-acute care settings must comply with the expedited receipt of patients/residents discharging from hospitals. Patients/residents are deemed appropriate for discharge to the post-acute care setting upon a determination by the hospital physician or designee that the resident is medically stable for return. A rapid review of necessary resources to provide adequate, safe care in the post-acute care setting is imperative during this time.”
Murphy said it nursing home deaths were not specific to New Jersey.
“Over the past nearly five months, one of the most impacted communities in our state has been the residents and staff of our long-term care facilities. They’ve borne an outsized burden of this pandemic. We cannot understate the enormity of either the spread or the loss of life within these facilities. Listen to these numbers: nearly 25,000 cases of coronavirus among residents, and nearly 13,000 among staff, and nearly 7,000 lab-confirmed deaths. This has not been a New Jersey-specific tragedy, either,” Murphy said. “Across the nation and indeed around the world, long-term care facilities have been crushed by COVID-19. And while we take no solace, zero solace, in the fact that we were not alone, we determined that we would be a leader in showing a better way forward.”
Here’s what Murphy said at the Monday, August 10th COVID-19 Press Conference:
In the late Spring, both the Departments of Health and Human Services fighting this pandemic directly, we engaged nationally recognized experts from Manatt Health to help us hone on what we – on what needed to be done and where it needed to be done and how it needed to be done. Manatt provided us with short, medium, and long-range solutions, and many of those recommendations are already in motion. For instance, more than 30 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been distributed to our long-term care facilities. Working in partnership with our facilities, we have conducted more than 310,000 tests of residents along with 495,000 tests for staff. Nearly 470 infection control surveys have been completed with their results posted for the public to see, and more than 3600 complaints that had been sitting in a backlog have now been cleared.
Implementation of other key immediate recommendations from the report include the hiring of David Adinaro to fill the critical role of Deputy Commissioner of Public Health at the Department of Health, and the creation of a long-term care emergency operations center led by, I might add, Dr. Adinaro, that is intended to serve as a central state resource for COVID-19 response efforts in long-term care. And so today, we add to that list. Today, the Department of Health will release a directive that will set mandatory benchmarks based on departmental, CDC, and CMS guidelines for New Jersey’s long-term care facilities as they look to reopen to visitors and resume normal operations. It will establish phases for reopening based on the time since a last outbreak and further timed to the broader reopening stages of our statewide road back. In this directive, we’ll establish strong baseline infection control measures as well as requirements for PPE stockpiling and resident and staff testing, including, by the way, weekly coronavirus tests for all staff among other items that will apply to all facilities regardless of phase.
To ensure that we get this right, we are preparing to commit a total of $155 million in state and federal funds. Of this, we will direct $25 million in CDC, epidemiology, and laboratory capacity funding, or ELC funding, through the Department of Health to support our new staff testing program. And I am proud to add that Commissioner Johnson is working directly with our legislative partners on a $130 million plan to stabilize and support our nursing facility workforce and critical infection control practices in the facilities. The plan would include tens of millions of dollars in federal matching funds.
With this funding, we would be able to increase wages, specifically for certified nursing aids, while also ensuring that our facilities can continue to fully support their current staffs and meet the more stringent criteria for reopening that are being put in place. So specifically, 60% of this funding must flow directly to our nursing home workforce. And the remainder will only go to facilities when they attest that they have met critical benchmark requirements outlined in the directive. The Department of Human Services will be prepared to recoup funds from facilities that do not comply with these requirements. I will ask both Judy and Carole to speak to this plan in greater detail, but here is our goal: to not only meet the current challenges but to ensure both high-quality care and the safety of residents and staff going forward. We will continue to work alongside the good actors in the long-term care industry of which there are many who want to do the right thing by their residents, their staffs, and their families who trust them while at the same time making sure we have strong measures in place that are needed to deal with the bad actors who put profit before people.