Home>Legislature>Seeking probe of Covid deaths in veterans’, nursing homes, Pennacchio says he was silenced

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

Seeking probe of Covid deaths in veterans’, nursing homes, Pennacchio says he was silenced

By David Wildstein, May 26 2022 3:22 pm

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville) says he wasn’t permitted to speak on a resolution sponsored by State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) to grant subpoena power to a special committee to investigate the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in veterans nursing homes.

The move was tabled by the Senate before Pennacchio was recognized to speak.

“I am outraged and disappointed that we were once again prevented from even discussing this effort to scrutinize the policies and factors that may have contributed to the death toll in long-term facilities,” said Pennacchio. “Like the voices of family members clamoring for answers, my voice, and the voices of my Senate colleagues, were silenced today.

Pennacchio said that the public “has a right to know what happened in the veterans’ homes and nursing homes.”

“What is this Administration hiding, and why are they being protected?” he said.

The following are Pennacchio’s undelivered floor remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Senate President. I rise in support of this motion and would ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do so as well.  In all my years as a legislator, I have never been so proud to associate myself with a piece of bi-partisan legislation as I am with this one today.  I thank Senator Gill for her leadership on this vital issue.

Early in the Covid pandemic, questions immediately arose as to the state’s public health policy and it’s handling of Covid, particularly when it came to nursing homes.  To be fair, this was a pandemic the likes of which we had not seen since 1918.  However, to also be fair to the 10,000 dead souls that died in nursing homes, common sense and accepted historical medical practices had been neglected and believe it or not – avoided.

Two years ago, in May of 2020 then Senate President Sweeney announced his willingness to have an oversight committee with subpoena powers.  At that time less than 5,000 of our frail and elderly had died in nursing homes.  Two years later and 10,000 dead, we are still waiting! The court system which is notoriously slow has surpassed this legislative body in speed in trying to find the truth through civil actions.

Last December, the administration admitted as much with a $50 million settlement with the families of the victims at the Paramus Veterans Nursing Home.  The veterans nursing homes are of particular interest because they are totally controlled by the state.  The same state that encouraged nursing homes to contact them for help with the implementation of their health care Covid policies.  Obviously, the state never gave itself the memo.

Central to the past, and I am sure future, litigation will be how vital to the argument was the effect that state policy had on the deaths of 10,000 frail and elderly trapped in those nursing homes.  There are silent screams crying out for answers.

  • Why were nursing homes forced to take in Covid patients, a communicable disease with little chance of isolation in a nursing facility?
  • Why were nursing homes prohibited from even testing to see if incoming residents were infected?
  • What professional and medical thought from the commissioner of health and the state epidemiologist went into the march 2020 edict?
  • New York and New Jersey’s memorandums were almost identical, with New York’s being issued one week prior.  Was New Jersey playing follow the leader?
  • Why didn’t New Jersey utilize the USS Comfort and the Javits Center more fully? Did we ask to use their staff, their PPE’s?
  • Why has there been a concerted effort to avoid answering questions, answering OPRA inquiries and addressing transparency to this vital issue?

It is a shame that two years after the bodies started piling up that this senate has not had the courage to look into our public health policies and determine what we did well and more importantly what we could have done better. This body, along with myself had an oversight committee to investigate Bridgegate – Bridgegate where no one died. Pause just a second and listen.  Listen to those 10,000 silent screams. “

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