New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio Has Questions for Fired Veterans’ Homes Bosses

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Says They Should Receive Some of the First Subpoena’s When Senate Convenes Select Committee to Investigate COVID Response

Days after Governor Murphy announced a change of command at the COVID-ravished state-run veterans’ nursing homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, Senator Joe Pennacchio said the replaced administrators have some explaining to do.

Senator Pennacchio wants fired veterans’ homes administrators’ names on the subpoena list for Senate Select Committee COVID investigation. (SenateNJ.com)

“As a legislator, I have plenty of questions that need to be answered, and I know the countless families who lost loved ones to the virus outbreak in these homes have questions,” said Pennacchio (R-26).

“Some of the very first subpoenas issued by the Senate Select Committee investigation, if the Senate finds the courage to convene it, should go to Matthew Schottlander and Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles. Did mismanagement and the lack of transparency play a role here, or were they just following orders and directives from the state Department of Health? We need to find out what was really going on behind the scenes.”

Schottlander was the head of the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home, and Schiff-Heedles was in charge at Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison.

Almost 200 – one of every three residents – in the veterans’ homes in the Menlo Park and Paramus veterans’ facilities were lost in the pandemic.

“How did this happen, and who tried to stop it? We need to hear from these administrators. We need to hear their side of the story,” said Pennacchio. “Were they culpable, or were they scapegoats?”

Pennacchio noted that early in the pandemic, Christopher Neuwirth was removed from his post as assistant commissioner at the health department. He filed a whistleblower lawsuit.

“It seems the list of possible scapegoats is getting larger every day,” Pennacchio said. “The Senate can’t keep dragging its feet on this investigation.”

More than 7,100 senior citizens died from COVID in nursing homes, and there are still active outbreaks in facilities across the state.

“We must determine if this was a preventable tragedy and if the deaths were avoidable. We know the Department of Health practically escorted the deadly virus into facilities full of vulnerable elderly patients and prohibited the facilities from testing for COVID, resulting in the loss of thousands of helpless seniors,” said Pennacchio. “The goal now is preventing another disaster if the feared second wave of the virus materializes.

“A Senate committee with subpoena power is the only way we’re ever going to get the answers we need,” Pennacchio concluded.

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