NJ nursing homes: Murphy needs to play it straight | Jack's Op-Ed in the Bergen Record

NJ nursing homes: Murphy, play it straight

Jack M. Ciattarelli

From the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve known that the elderly and those with underlying conditions — the very profile of those living in skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes — are extremely vulnerable to the virus. In fact, some of the very first recorded COVID-19 deaths in the country were in a Washington State nursing home.

More than 50% of New Jersey’s COVID-19 deaths, which exceed 10,000, were among those living and working in nursing homes. 

Suddenly, Gov. Phil Murphy is “talking tough” about these heartbreaking deaths: “The industry does not have it within themselves to make the changes they need. If they had, they would have done it already. I want to be definitive and unambiguous about that. And change will be coming.”

What the governor doesn’t say is that nursing homes, and that includes state-operated veterans' homes, were never prioritized by the Murphy Administration. In fact, New Jersey nursing homes were on their own to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) and they weren’t provided COVID-19 test kits until week six of the pandemic. This failure cost lives. 

The governor also conveniently fails to mention that many of New Jersey’s COVID-19 nursing home deaths were in state-operated veterans’ homes.

Are there poorly run nursing homes out there? More than likely, yes. But the governor’s failure to voluntarily acknowledge the disproportionate number of fatalities at New Jersey-operated facilities seems politically convenient.

What’s also conveniently not mentioned is New Jersey nursing homes received little to no help from the state. That’s despite New Jersey being the regulator for nursing homes. New Jersey is also the primary payor for Medicaid nursing home residents who, by state law, must be at least 45% of any facility’s resident population.

The governor needs to play it straight. He should be looking to help, not just ridicule New Jersey nursing homes. In addition to PPE and test kits, how about staffing and financial assistance? The governor isn’t ignorant to the fact that nursing homes have experienced staffing shortages due to the pandemic and have had to pay staff significantly more to persuade employees to work (e.g., “Hero Pay”). And yet, no financial assistance whatsoever has been offered, despite hospitals receiving governmental support. 

While the governor applauds and thanks hospital staffs regularly, he needs to acknowledge that nursing home staffs are “heroes” too. I know. My 88-year old mother is cared for by these dedicated professionals at her nursing home.

For sure, the state’s attorney general should investigate to see if New Jersey nursing homes were negligent. The governor should be more forthright, however, about the investigation including state-operated homes for veterans, which have some of the highest COVID-19 cases and deaths in the nation.

While that investigation is taking place, some very serious and in-depth self-examination by the Murphy administration is also necessary. It should start with a simple admission by the governor that his handling of nursing homes was wrong, including the timing of his directive that nursing homes must re-admit COVID-19 patients and his failure to respond promptly to warnings of dangerous staffing shortages at state-operated facilities. He can then follow it up with, “I'm sorry."

 

Jack 4 NJ