The picture in New Jersey nursing homes is not good; many of the state’s coronavirus deaths have occurred there and some of the details have been ghastly.
Still, “this is not a time to blame anyone at all,” maintained Judith Persichilli, the state’s Health Commissioner, at today’s COVID-19 briefing. She added that no one should forget that the ongoing pandemic is something for which no state could have truly prepared. The state has – and is – doing the best it can in a very trying time, she said. Partisan politics to a certain extent was superseded by the larger crisis at hand when the pandemic began two months ago. But things are methodically creeping back to normal.
Republicans have responded to the nursing home problems by demanding investigatory hearings and lambasting the Murphy Administration. State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, of Montville, did just that during a recent appearance on Fox-TV.
But it’s not only Republicans raising alarms. A very long and detailed report in today’s Star-Ledger highlighted the many problems nursing homes have had coping with COVID-19.
For instance, who can forget news reports last month of more than a dozen dead bodies stacked up at a long-term care facility in Andover?
This issue is not easy for state officials, who, of course, run few nursing homes themselves. But nursing homes are licensed by the New Jersey Health Department, giving the state overall responsibility.
The outside criticism was not directly mentioned at the briefing, but it clearly had an impact. Persichilli, who the governor always introduces as the “woman who needs no introduction,” began her update with a rundown of state oversight and guidance of nursing homes since the pandemic began. That hardly was a coincidence.
She noted that the first case of the virus in New Jersey was not detected until March 4.
And then, providing dates, Persichilli reviewed what the state health department has done in regard to long-term care facilities. This included restricting visitors, relocating COVID-19 patients to separate wings when possible, separating staff, “tele-medicine,” and a relatively early edict for all to wear masks.
A major problem in nursing homes has been the lack of PPE, or personal protection equipment.
Gov. Phil Murphy said today that, yes, the state didn’t have enough PPE equipment, but neither did the federal goverenment. Murphy added that New Jersey – and probably all other states as well – had not been in the business of stockpiling PPE equipment.
Rather than use the state’s performance to cast blame, Persichilli asserted that it should be reviewed with an eye toward doing better next time. And she darkly predicted there will be future pandemics.
Murphy also has endorsed the idea of a comprehensive look at the state’s overall pandemic response along the lines of the national 9/11 Commisson, which was chaired by former Governor Tom Kean.
But at the same time, and at least when it comes to nursing homes, the governor reiterated today that critics also have to focus on the private owners, not all of whom are responsible.
As he put it, there are some “bad apples” out there.