Virus hits nearly every resident at NJ veterans home; an elite medical team is on the way
By TED SHERMAN | NJ Advance Media Group | Published: April 30, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — The New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus — where 52 have died and 241 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 — is getting reinforcements.
Doctors and infectious disease experts from several North Jersey hospitals that have been at the forefront of the state’s coronavirus pandemic have agreed to consult with the nursing home’s beleaguered medical staff to help triage residents as well as review protocols and other medical needs, state and elected officials announced Thursday.
“We have some of the best and the brightest COVID specialists within a few miles away who have just been through the eye of the COVID-19 storm and are willing to bring their expertise to help veterans,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist. “I’m hoping it will save lives.”
Officials say 98% of residents of the state-run nursing home in Bergen County have either tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting COVID-19 test results or are currently hospitalized.
Gottheimer noted North Jersey had been park of the first wave of coronavirus cases in the country.
“These doctors, who’ve been fighting this virus for months, will be using all of that experience and insight to help protect those who need it most,” he said.
He and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-9th Dist., worked together to bring the additional doctors to Paramus.
The number of coronavirus-related deaths have also been rising at a second state veterans home in Menlo Park, where 45 have died and 137 have tested positive for the virus.
Many families and residents have been complaining for weeks to officials in the home and to reporters about what they claim have been deteriorating conditions in both Paramus and Menlo Park.
Earlier this week, Mark Piterski, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs who oversaw the state’s veterans homes, resigned from his post. Gov. Phil Murphy, at his daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, told reporters he did not know why Piterski resigned, but that he had been replaced by retired New Jersey Army National Guard Colonel Walter Nall, currently director of Veterans Services.
The state operates three homes for veterans. The third is in Vineland.
Pascrell said his office has heard heartbreaking stories of families getting no information about their loved ones in veterans’ homes.
“We need to figure out what the hell went wrong in Paramus,” said the congressman. “Our veterans deserve the best treatment and they have not been getting it.”
Statewide, 3,247 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak hit the state. That number includes both lab-confirmed and suspected coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. According to the Department of Health, 489 out of 670 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in New Jersey have reported viral outbreaks.
Army National Guard medics were deployed to the state facilities in Paramus and Menlo Park to help nurses and health aides there. But in recent weeks, many staff members have not reported to work or been sent home sick, according to officials.
Nall, the acting state commissioner, said his department appreciated the outreach of elected officials, the local hospitals and the community to bring the added medical expertise to Paramus.
“Veterans are fighters by nature, and they know that tough times don’t last, but tough teams do. The medical professionals of the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration and New Jersey Department of Health are working alongside citizen-soldiers and airmen of the New Jersey National Guard to bolster the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home team of nurses and staff,” Nall said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Gottheimer and Pascrell say they have contacted the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the VA Inspector General, seeking an immediate federal investigation and urging additional measures to protect residents.
In addition to the National Guard medics, the VA said it was sending 90 nurses to support the veterans’ facilities in New Jersey.