The US Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the New Jersey state veterans’ homes, citing lack of cooperation with an earlier investigation and concerns about the quality of care at the facilities.
New Jersey officials estimate that 190 residents in veteran homes in Paramus and Menlo Park have died from Covid-19, roughly a third of their population at the start of the pandemic. The official balance sheet according to the state Covid-19 data dashboardstays at 143.
“Recent reports suggest that Covid-19 deaths have been underestimated in some nursing homes, including the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park and the New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus, two state-run long-term care facilities.” According to a letter to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy released Tuesday night by a Justice Department spokesman.
There is “cause for concern that the quality of medical care in these nursing homes has been poor,” the letter reads.
According to the letter, the department has not drawn any conclusions and may offer “technical assistance” on the deficiencies identified in the investigation.
The Justice Department announced its initial investigation into the handling of outbreaks in long-term care facilities in New Jersey in August. More than 7,200 residents and facility workers who tested positive for the virus have died since March 4, accounting for around 45 percent of the estimated deaths in New Jersey attributable to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, New Jersey elected officials and Democratic officials after months of public outcry from veterans groups. Josh Gottheimer and Bill PascrellMurphy announced a restructuring of the State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the homes of Menlo Park and Paramus.
The state’s third veterans home in Vineland was the site of a much smaller outbreak.
“The fact that this Justice Department request was announced a week before election day speaks volumes about the nature of the review,” Murphy’s press office said in a statement late Tuesday. “Since the pandemic began, the state of New Jersey has relied on CDC guidance from the federal government to protect the residents of our veteran homes. We do not comment on the content of inquiries and will respond through the appropriate channels in due course. ”
The federal investigation also looked at outbreaks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Separately, the Department of Justice has sent a letter to the New York City Health Department with information about the number of residents, staff and employees who have tested positive for the virus, as well as data on the number of people who will be hospitalized after being transferred have died, have been requested, or another medical facility.
The department is also asking New York to provide figures on how many people have been admitted to private nursing homes after testing positive for Covid-19 in another facility. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been targeted by Republicans for instructing nursing homes to admit Covid-19 patients over objections from the Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine.
“I think that policy was unfortunately one of the things that resulted in a lot of preventable damage,” Richard J. Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, told POLITICO earlier this year.
“It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we found out about this letter from the New York Post, who [President Donald] Trump’s politicized DOJ gave it to them in front of the state, but it appears that the DOJ has been requesting data since this pandemic started, while CMS didn’t look for numbers until after May 8, “Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a text message late Tuesday . “You should have found out for yourself, but there’s an election in a week’s time and this federal government is clearly trying to deceive and distract in every possible way.”