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Two years since veterans home Covid disaster, Murphy’s promise of ‘full accounting’ has gone nowhere

by Integrity of information, Records and operational performance, Systemic failure

A barrage of questions fills Regina Discenza’s head every time she thinks about what her parents, Charles and Madeline Costantino, suffered through two years ago as COVID-19 swept through the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, where the couple lived.

Why was her father moved from room to room at the height of the outbreak shortly before he died? Did a breakdown in care allow her mom to become infected and succumb to the virus months later? Why wasn’t the facility better prepared when other nursing homes had already been hit hard a month before?

Monday marks the second anniversary of the first confirmed COVID case among the three state-run veterans homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland, where more than 200 residents have died in one of the nation’s worst nursing home disasters amid the pandemic.

NorthJersey.com sued the Murphy administration last year after it denied a public records request for emails between top officials at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs over management at the homes during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

After months of legal wrangling and court hearings, the administration turned over 147 pages of documents. Almost all of them were completely redacted.

An inspection report and other documents showed how COVID-19 spread quickly through the Paramus home due to inadequate training, confusion among staff and some disturbing practices. Nurses’ aides didn’t know which residents had tested positive and which were waiting for results. A janitor mopped the floor of room after room, unaware that “STOP” signs on the doors meant an infected person was inside. And residents who tested positive for COVID  were allowed to mingle with non-infected residents more than a month into the outbreak.

Another tranche of emails showed that managers were so adamantly opposed to letting staff wear masks in the first month of the pandemic that they sent home a worker who refused to remove a mask, barred ambulance workers from wearing them in the homes and devised penalties with help from Murphy’s office.

Read more: North Jersey, 28 March 2022

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