Republicans held their first hearing on Gov. Phil Murphy’s response to the pandemic Friday, honing in on the administration’s handling of the virus in its long-term care facilities.
The roughly four-hour-long hearing saw testimony from a physician, various advocates and relatives bereaved by the virus.
“We don’t have any closure. We need answers. I want to know why my brother was there. I want to know why he was sent there, and I want to know why he didn’t deserve proper treatment,” said Rima Samman, whose brother died after being transferred to a nursing home. “We treat animals better than the way my brother was treated those last 48 hours.”
Much focus was lent to a March health directive that ordered long-term care facilities to readmit and segregate residents who had tested positive for the virus but were medically stable. That directive also barred nursing homes from testing such residents.
They lent similar focus to officials barring staff from wearing masks at the state’s veteran memorial homes in the early days of the pandemic, when there was a national shortage of personal protective equipment.
The managers of those facilities, where 155 residents died after contracting the virus, have since been replaced.
The panel invited Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and Interim Adjutant General Lisa Hou, the acting commissioner of military and veteran affairs, to attend but they declined.
Their reluctance is unsurprising. Every member of the legislature is up for re-election this year, as is Murphy, and the party views the deaths at nursing homes, along with school closures that threaten to alienate suburban voters who had been trending Democratic under President Donald Trump as a significant vulnerability.
Democrats, including Murphy have derided federal probes into the state’s pandemic response launched under President Donald Trump as partisan ones, and the Republicans are predicting a similar response to their hearings. They took a similar tack Friday.
“These so-called ‘hearings’, featuring only Republican members, are a nakedly political election-year stunt. The same legislators who are now politicizing the tragic losses in our long-term care facilities repeatedly voted against legislation that would have mandated safe staffing ratios at these same facilities — siding with powerful industry lobbyists and against our vulnerable seniors,” Murphy Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro said. “These members sat idly by for years while Governor Christie cut funding for DOH and DHS, slashing to the bone the same agencies that would have provided more oversight to these facilities had they had the funding and the manpower to do so.”
Most of the panel’s members — State Sens. Pennacchio, Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), Michael Testa (R-Vineland), Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) and Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) — voted against a bill that established a minimum caregiver to resident ratio in nursing homes. Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany-Troy Hills) abstained.
The panel intends to hold at least two other hearings, which will lend focus to the impact the administration’s policies had on the state’s businesses, Murphy’s executive orders and the state’s unemployment system, among other things.
“There are numerous other unanswered questions,” said State Sen. Pennacchio (R-Montville), who chaired the panel. “Not because this committee has not been doing it and trying to find out, but rather because of the deafening silence of this administration.”