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State Sen. Joe Pennacchio. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Republicans renew criticism over long-term care directive

Report: Administration warned ‘patients will die’ if nursing homes forced to readmit COVID-positive residents

By Nikita Biryukov, March 15 2021 11:27 am

Republicans renewed their attacks over Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of COVID-19 in the state’s long-term care centers in the wake of a news report that said administration officials were warned of the risk of death related to a March directive that ordered nursing homes to readmit patients that tested positive for COVID-19.

“Nursing home administrators were crystal clear when they told Commissioner Persichilli they couldn’t safely admit COVID-19 patients without putting their other residents at risk,” State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) said. “They said COVID would spread through their facilities and people would die as a result of the dangerous order. Tragically, the Murphy administration ignored their prescient warnings and thousands of people died.”

On Sunday, NJ Advance Media reported an unidentified nursing home administrator told Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli “patients will die” as a result of the directive during a March 31 conference call.

Republicans have long attacked the governor over the directive, which was meant to avoid overburdening New Jersey’s hospital systems amid the first wave of infections by transferring nursing home residents back into those facilities, where they could receive some standard of care.

The directive ordered such residents be separated from the general population, but long-term care facilities still saw widespread deaths in the pandemic’s early months.

“We need a select committee with subpoena power to compel Governor Murphy’s team to testify under oath since they won’t voluntarily appear before the Legislature to answer important questions,” Pennacchio said. “Families who lost loved ones deserve to know why the Murphy administration ignored all of the warnings. How much more evidence will Trenton Democrats need before they stop blocking this important investigation?”

Refused an official body, Republicans have convened their own ad hoc committee to probe the Murphy administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The directive got heavy play during their first hearing, though it’s not clear how much it contributed to the death toll in the state’s nursing homes.

As of Monday morning, there were 7,950 deaths among long-term care residents and staff, about 37% of the state’s confirmed virus death.

With probable deaths added to the total, the share drops to a little more than 33%, slightly lower than the national rate of 34%, but its not clear how many probable deaths originated in long-term care facilities.

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