State epidemiologist on the hot seat over Murphy COVID-19 nursing home pandemic directive

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Lonely old woman wearing surgical mask. Sad senior lady wearing face protective medical mask and looking through the window. Alone depressed woman stay at home during quarantine due to the coronavirus
Lonely old woman wearing surgical mask.

In a letter today to the State epidemiologist at the department of health, Senator Joe Pennacchio questioned if she was consulted by the Murphy administration when a directive was issued last year forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients from hospitals without testing.

In a letter to the State epidemiologist, Sen. Joe Pennacchio asked if she was consulted by the Murphy administration when a directive was issued last year forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients from hospitals without testing. (©iStock)

“Sadly, we know the results of ill-fated directives that enabled the virus to sweep through the elderly populations of senior facilities,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “We need to understand how these decisions came about, and whether the Governor consulted with and relied on the experts and the scientists.”

Pennacchio chaired an independent hearing that examined the pandemic’s devastating toll in long-term care facilities. He was joined by Republican Senators and Assembly representatives for a lengthy hearing on March 5 where they heard four hours of testimony from family members who lost loved ones, a veterans home resident who watched his friends dies, and experts who weighed in on State edicts and their role in more than 8,000 deaths.

“It’s obvious that forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients was a disaster,” Pennacchio said. “We need to know how it happened, why it happened, and whether anybody tried to stop it from happening.”

In his letter to Dr. Christina Tan, Pennacchio asked if her input was solicited when the administration’s March 31 directive requiring nursing homes to accept COVID patients was drafted.

“It is important to know how the scientists were advising this administration as to what they should and should not do,” noted Pennacchio. “Certainly the advice from the state’s top infectious disease doctor would carry a lot of weight. We need to know exactly what input she had in this directive.”

It is one of four questions in the Senator’s letter to Dr. Tan.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Dr. Tan,

As you may be aware, I am very concerned about our state’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, especially when it comes to our nursing homes and veterans’ homes. I have spoken with residents from across the state who have lost a loved one and they would like answers as to why their loved one died.

Your mission statement (New Jersey Communicable Disease Service) on the Department of Health’s website states:

Our mission is to prevent communicable disease among all citizens of New Jersey and to promote the knowledge and use of healthy lifestyles to maximize the health and well-being of New Jerseyans.

We will accomplish our mission through our leadership, collaborative partnerships, and advocacy for communicable disease surveillance, research, education, treatment, prevention and control.

With that being said, I have several questions that I would like you to answer:

Was your input solicited when the administration’s March 31, 2020 directive requiring nursing homes to accept COVID patients was drafted?
Did you agree with provisions of the directive that, a.) required nursing homes to accept recovering COVID patients; and b.) prohibited nursing homes from testing residents prior to admission? If you didn’t agree, with whom did you share concerns?
The Commissioner of Health has repeatedly stated that nursing homes were instructed not to accept COVID-positive patients unless they could be segregated from other residents in a separate unit or wing. As an epidemiologist, do you believe it was possible for nursing homes to identify who should be segregated when the administration’s order prohibited testing for COVID prior to a resident’s admission? If so, how?
New Jersey’s veterans’ homes barred employees from wearing protective masks at the outset of the pandemic and devised a series of penalties with the help of Gov. Murphy’s office to punish caregivers who wore PPE without permission. Did you agree with that policy? If you opposed this policy, did you raise concerns with others in the administration or provide alternative guidance? If such guidance was overridden, by whom?

As our state epidemiologist you are tasked with tremendous responsibility where lives depend on your guidance and direction. For the health and welfare of those in veterans and nursing homes and all New Jersey residents, we need to know what happened and what we can do to prevent more illness and death from occurring.

Thank you for your time and anticipated cooperation.


Senator Joe Pennacchio

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