On the second anniversary of the initial confirmed COVID infection at a state-operated veterans’ home, Senator Joe Pennacchio and Senator Ed Durr are demanding accountability from the Murphy Administration.
On the second anniversary of the initial confirmed COVID infection at a state-operated veterans’ home, Sen. Joe Pennacchio and Sen. Ed Durr are demanding accountability from the Murphy Administration. (SenateNJ.com)
“It has been two long, painful years for the families who lost loved ones in the veterans’ facilities, and we’re no closer to getting to the truth about what happened than we were in the heart of the pandemic,” said Pennacchio (R-24).
“Governor Murphy has repeatedly referred to an eventual investigation of his pandemic decisions as a ‘post-mortem,’ which is a post-death examination. Even he seems to recognize that his orders for nursing homes and veterans’ homes to take sick patients at the start of the COVID crisis proved deadly,” Pennacchio continued. “We deserve to know why he took that step and fully understand the devastating impact of that order.”
After the Governor’s fateful directive requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients and prohibiting administrators from testing for the virus, 10,000 vulnerable seniors were lost, including more than 200 in veterans’ homes operated by the state.
“Now that the public health emergency is over and there is no imminent threat from the virus, the families of the victims in those facilities are owed the detailed investigation the governor promised repeatedly but continues to sidestep,” said Durr (R-3). “Grieving families haven’t forgotten, and neither have we. That’s why we need a committee with subpoena power. There is still plenty of unfinished business.”
In a report published today, two years to the day since the first COVID case inside a veterans’ home, USA TODAY Network reporter Scott Fallon documented Murphy’s inaction.
“State residents feel like the Governor is giving them the run-around. It is disrespectful and indefensible,” said Pennacchio, who has been pressing for a bipartisan Senate investigative committee with subpoena power since May 2020. “On many occasions, he has promised a full accounting of the Administration’s COVID actions, but clearly that’s a promise he has no intention of keeping.”
On many occasions, he has promised a full accounting of the Administration’s COVID actions, but clearly that’s a promise he has no intention of keeping.”
In December, the Administration reached a $53 million settlement with the families of 119 of the veterans’ homes victims. The payout for each family would be approximately $445,000, but questions remain unaddressed.
“If the Governor is going to commit that much taxpayer money to a settlement, he at least owes the taxpayers an explanation,” said Durr. “Decisions made by Murphy and his team not only put lives at risk, they had fatal consequences for too many fragile senior citizens. We need to understand what considerations played into the settlement. There are questions that demand answers and they aren’t going to go away on their own.”
In January, Senate Republican Leader Steven Oroho and Pennacchio filed a series of Open Public Records Act requests seeking information on the settlement, but as happened with previous pandemic-related OPRA filings, they were rejected.
Last month, Pennacchio teamed with Democrat Senator Nia H. Gill to sponsor a resolution, SR-48, that would establish a special committee of the Senate to investigate New Jersey’s nursing home pandemic response.
“It is becoming more of a bipartisan effort to get to the truth,” said a hopeful Pennacchio. “This is about people, not politics. The Democrats in the Legislature are protecting their Governor when New Jersey families should be the priority. Both sides of the aisle should come together and pass SR-48. Murphy needs to know it is time to come clean.”
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