An out-of-court settlement of almost $16 million with the families of more than 70 seniors who died in state-run veterans facilities was confirmed by the Governor’s Administration today, and Senator Joe Pennacchio warned that more similar announcements may be forthcoming.
A settlement of almost $16 million with the families of 71 seniors who died in state-run veterans facilities was confirmed by the Administration, and Sen. Joe Pennacchio warned that more similar announcements may be forthcoming. (Pixabay)
“The Administration just continues to pay out taxpayer money for nursing home deaths without any public scrutiny,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “How many more secret settlements will they try to hide from taxpayers?”
Pennacchio questioned why the Administration would agree to millions of dollars in payments “if they don’t accept that decisions made played a significant role in the loss of life? They know they messed up. They are trying to make it go away with taxpayer money.”
This was the second settlement the state reached with the loved ones of veterans home victims. The initial $53 million deal was announced hours before Christmas and included 119 families.
“This Administration is being protected by political allies in the Legislature,” Pennacchio said. “Nursing home victims deserve better, and the taxpayers have the right to know the details of these settlements.”
In May of 2020, Pennacchio exposed deadly orders issued by the Administration that forced nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients from hospitals. The directives from the Department of Health prohibited long-term care facilities from testing patients for COVID-19 prior to admission.
To understand why those and other disastrous orders were issued, Pennacchio introduced a resolution that, if adopted, would have convene an investigative Senate Select Committee on the Executive Branch’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Senate Democrats blocked his efforts to bring the resolution, SR-68, up for a vote by the New Jersey Senate on five separate occasions over 19 months.
“Sadly, Democrats in the Legislature have been fully complicit in this cover-up,” said a frustrated Pennacchio in December. “The Democrats initially agreed to join us in a bipartisan investigation, but that quickly changed when the Administration pressured them not to start digging. It’s disappointing Democrats showed none of the courage of the veterans whose deaths they refuse to investigate.”
Following the first settlement in December, Pennacchio and Senator Steven Oroho filed an Open Public Records Act request for the details behind the agreement to learn what went wrong in the early days of the pandemic.
After weeks of delays, the OPRA request was denied.
“This is what we have come to expect from an Administration that continues to obfuscate the facts, details and rationale behind pandemic-related decisions,” said Pennacchio at the time. “They have consistently denied access to what should be public information. This most recent rejection reinforces the need for a Legislative Oversight Committee with subpoena power.
“It is clear this information will never be forthcoming unless the Administration is forced.”
Pennacchio emphasized the need for transparency, stating that details to the settlements are crucial.
“Without the information of what the settlements were based on we have no idea what role the state guidelines played in the tragedies. This information is vital,” Pennacchio said. “State public policy applied to all state nursing homes – almost 500 of them. How much affect did policy have on the loss of 10,000 poor souls in senior facilities.”