COVID outbreaks have lingered for months inside NJ state veterans homes
nj.com August 11, 2022
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(Tribune News Service) — The Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison has been living with a COVID-19 outbreak since Thanksgiving week that has infected 45% of the workforce and one-third of the residents, including 19 veterans who died, according to the most recent state data this week.
An outbreak inside the Vineland Veterans Memorial Home began on April 27, but it has surged in recent weeks, said Major Agneta E. Murnan, spokeswoman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. So far there have been 71 Vineland residents — about 30% of the population — and 91 employees infected, and one death of a resident, according to the state Department of Health’s website.
The third veterans home, in Paramus, has been the least affected by the outbreak that began on April 11. So far, seven residents and 71 of employees have contracted COVID-19 in the latest wave, according to state data.
The pandemic has decimated the three state-run nursing homes for veterans and their spouses since it began in March 2020. The state has acknowledged more than 200 residents and employees have died.
But an attorney who represents dozens of families who have sued the state suggests the number of fatalities may be as many as 240. The Murphy administration in December paid out nearly $53 million to the families of 119 residents who died in the early months of the deadly outbreak to settle lawsuits alleging gross negligence and incompetence. In court filings in May, another 69 families notified the state they intended to file a similar complaint.
As COVID cases swept through the buildings, the state belatedly sought emergency assistance from the Veterans Administration and the National Guard, some believe.
The prolonged outbreaks at the three state-run nursing homes can be explained by how the health department defines them, Murnan said. An outbreak is over once 28 days (two incubation periods of 14 days) have elapsed without any new cases.
“If there is even one new staff or resident case within 28 days of a previous case, the outbreak is not considered to be resolved. As such, many of these cases did not take place in recent weeks,” Murnan said.
By the health department’s definition, 69 residents and 195 employees have tested positive at the Menlo Park home from Nov. 23 through Aug. 10, according to the health department’s COVID data page.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs does not report COVID cases the same way. As of Monday, there was just one COVID case at Menlo Park among its 201 residents and five cases among its 431 employees, according to its website.
In Paramus, no residents are COVID-19-positive and four employees are sick, according to DMAVA. The health department statistics say 7 residents and 69 employees have become infected since April 11.
In Vineland, there are seven residents and 10 employees sick with COVID, the military and veterans website said. The health department says 70 residents and 89 employees have tested positive since April 27, according to the health department.
“There has been a spike at the Vineland home in the past two weeks, concurrent with an overall rise in cases throughout the state,” Murnan said. “The summer months typically see an increase in residents’ participation in external activities, day trips, and vacations with family members.”
The Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Service is aware of the long-running exposure and is working “closely with local health departments and these facilities to review their infection control practices and provide public health recommendations,” health department spokeswoman Nancy Kearney said.
The Office of Long-Term Care Resiliency also checks in on each facility that reports a new outbreak to discuss preventing the spread of the disease and encouraging residents and staff to receive boosters, Kearney said.
At Menlo Park, 87.6% of residents and 99% of staff are vaccinated and boosted, according to the health department website. At Vineland, 97% of residents and 96% of employees are vaccinated and boosted. At Paramus, 93% of residents and 100% of employees are fully inoculated.
Testing remains a frequent occurrence, and is mandatory for residents who leave the facility, Murnan said. Military and Veterans Affairs “continues to monitor the situation closely to protect the health of residents and staff,” she said.
An investigation is underway by the U.S. Department of Justice into whether the number of deaths in the veterans’ homes had been understated, and whether the state should not have allowed nursing homes to accept residents discharged from the hospital after they were treated for COVID-19.
NJ Advance Media Staff Writer Ted Sherman contributed to this report.
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