On the same morning that the media reported a United States Department of Justice inquiry of the deaths of more than 7,000 nursing home residents in New Jersey, an attempt by Senate Republicans calling for the immediate formation of a Senate Select Committee with subpoena power to investigate the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the facilities was blocked by the Democrats.
Senator Pennacchio continued pressing the Senate to vote on his bill creating a special committee to investigate the state’s handling of COVID in nursing homes, but again the Democrat majority blocked his motion. (Flickr)
For the third time, Senator Pennacchio implored his colleagues to stop dragging their feet and vote on his legislation, SR-68, creating a special committee to review processes and orders that contributed to 148 deaths inside the three State-run veterans’ homes and more than 7,000 deaths across New Jersey’s many nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Pennacchio’s motion to vote on the creation of the special investigate committee was again tabled by the majority Democrats.
“That the feds have felt the need to get involved here is a sign that New Jersey hasn’t done enough to get its own house in order,” said Pennacchio. “While the DOJ is looking for criminal liability, it is our job, as legislators, to conduct our own investigation to determine what reforms are needed to keep the residents in our veterans’ homes and long-term care facilities safe. There is no reason not to do this, and more than 7,000 reasons why it must be done.”
Since early May, Pennacchio and Senate Republicans have been pushing Senate Democrats to use their power as the majority party to form an investigative committee or to stop blocking Republican motions to advance SR-68, which would create the committee. Each time, the efforts have been stonewalled by Democrats.
“A special Senate panel with subpoena power to compel witness testimony is absolutely necessary to better protect our aging veterans and seniors who seem to have been forgotten in unprepared facilities where the virus spread like wildfire,” Pennacchio said. “The long-term care bills we’ll vote on today are a start, but it was obvious the testimony during the joint health committee barely scratched the surface. There is so much more we need to know, so many more questions that demand answers.”
The Senate Republican caucus has written numerous formal letters to the Senate President, issued dozens of press releases highlighting the need for the investigation, reached out directly to Democratic leadership, and made motions during Senate sessions to move Pennacchio’s resolution, all to no avail.
“It’s shocking that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are completely unwilling to examine this human tragedy and understand exactly what went wrong,” said Pennacchio. “In Massachusetts, where the death toll in veterans and senior facilities was high – but nowhere near as high as New Jersey’s – they launched investigations, fired the people responsible, and initiated reforms to prevent it from happening again. In New Jersey, Democrats have repeatedly prevented us from getting the ball moving on this important process.
“It’s not too late for the Senate to do the right thing,” said Pennacchio. “This should be a bipartisan effort to get to the truth. We still have veterans who remain at risk, along with thousands of vulnerable residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities who deserve better protections.”