The Murphy administration is bringing in two national health care experts to look at long-standing issues and potential improvements at the state’s long-term care facilities, which became the subject of potential criminal investigations as they account for more than half the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
“We’re bringing on a nationally experienced team of experts to help us tackle the challenges at our long-term care facilities, and protect the residents and staff at these facilities,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
That 15-person group will be led by Cindy Mann, who was deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under former U.S. President Barack Obama, and Carole Raphael, who was previously the board chair at the American Association of Retired Person – or AARP.
“The industry does not have it within themselves to make the changes they need. If they had, they would have done it already,” Murphy said on Tuesday. “I want to be definitive and unambiguous on that. And change will be coming.”
Over the next three weeks, the group will identify any “immediate concerns” that may have inhibited or stunted long-term care facilities’ ability to protect their residents from COVID-19, Murphy said.
That means they will look at “what additional protocols, resources and equipment should be put in place,” according to State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“They’ll look at outbreak protocols, they’ll address mitigation, protection, resiliency against future outbreaks,” Persichilli said.
According to the most recent state data, 512 of the state’s 675 long-term care facilities – such senior centers, nursing and veteran homes – had COVID-19 outbreaks.
Of the state’s 131,890 positive cases, 23,345 were from long-term care facilities, while out of the 8,549 whose lives were claimed by the virus, 4,261 were residents of long-term care facilities, the data shows.
State authorities have been looking at long-term centers where there have been a “disproportionate number of deaths,” Murphy said on Tuesday, such as at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, a 699-bed facility where 17 were found dead last month in what was described as a makeshift morgue.
“We are not alleging any misconduct … but we will evaluate whether some facilities put profits over patients,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Tuesday “We are looking back and we will hold people accountable if anything criminal happened.”
“We’ll simply follow the facts and the law wherever they lead us,” Grewal said, be it criminal or civil charges, civil liability, or simply a corrective action plan.