New Jersey's 26th Legislative District

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Senator Joe Pennacchio

Pennacchio: Solutions to Troubled Veterans Homes Depend on Senate Investigation, not Fired Bureaucrats

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The top official at the helm of the state-run veterans’ home in Menlo Park has been terminated, and Senator Joe Pennacchio is questioning the timing.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio responded to the firing of the CEO of the veterans’ home in Menlo Park, blasting the Administration for its continued failures in facilities where seniors are still dying from COVID. (©iStock)

“More than a dozen veterans died from COVID in the facility this year, in 2022,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “Problems persist within the walls of the Menlo Park home, and people are still dying, but seems like the Murphy Administration is finally closing the barn doors after the horses escaped. This is more of the game from the Governor – too little, too late.”

The Senator noted that the news leaked Wednesday mirrors another pre-holiday news dump of a year ago, when the Administration’s $53 million settlement with the families of 119 elderly residents who died in veterans’ homes.

“The Administration hasn’t figured out how to solve the problem, but they have gotten good at hiding it from the public,” Pennacchio said. “They let the news out when everybody is preoccupied, and nobody is paying attention.”

The story of the Menlo Park veterans’ home is the stuff of horror films. With more than 100 virus-connected deaths, the facility had one of the highest body counts in the nation. Family members were locked out and couldn’t comfort suffering and dying loved ones, nurses were forbidden from wearing masks because they would frighted residents, and were prevented from testing for COVID.

“The executive who was dismissed this week was hand-picked to take over the struggling facility in March 2021. There was a new face in charge, but policies didn’t evolve enough to protect the elderly residents,” said Pennacchio. “It was yet another heartbreaking failure, and the Administration bears much of the responsibility – but so does the Legislature that has systematically interfered with my resolution seeking to launch a Senate Select Committee with subpoena power to investigate the Administration’s handling of the pandemic in nursing homes.”

A bipartisan committee could uncover valuable details about the directives, policies and processes that allowed COVID to run rampant inside senior facilities, and most importantly, learn how to prevent it from happening again.

“Simply changing the name of the person in charge isn’t going to do it,” Pennacchio said. “Only after extensive fact-finding and investigation can workable life-saving approaches be presented.

“Sadly, I believe if the Senate acted to launch an investigative panel in May 2020 when I first introduced the legislation, dozens of lives would have been spared, including those who died in Menlo Park this year.”

Pennacchio has spoken on the Senate floor on six different occasions, asking the Senate to remove his resolution from committee and vote to enact the legislative investigative panel. Each time, the motion was tabled by the majority Democrats.

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