Murphy launches long-promised review of NJ’s pandemic response

Matthew Fazelpoor//November 29, 2022

Murphy launches long-promised review of NJ’s pandemic response

Matthew Fazelpoor//November 29, 2022

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Nov. 28 the launch of a long-awaited independent review into the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The analysis will be led by Paul Zoubek of Philadelphia law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP, in conjunction with Boston Consulting Group.

The governor has promised such a review multiple times over the past few years.

The delays in its roll-out have led to some criticism, especially from Republicans. The administration, though, says that New Jersey is the first state in the nation to commission an independent and comprehensive pandemic review, which is expected to be released in late 2023 with recommendations for enhancements and reforms.

Murphy’s office says the review will include:

  • New Jersey’s state of readiness in early 2020
  • Prominent emergency policy decisions that were made by the state government
  • The pandemic response with respect to vulnerable residents, including members of congregate care settings
  • The state government’s efforts to continue core functions, including providing direct services to residents
  • An examination of the management of public health aspects of the pandemic, including testing, vaccinations, personal protective equipment procurement and distribution, and coordination of the health care system and of health information around COVID-19
Gov. Phil Murphy; First Lady Tammy Murphy; and Emma, Charlie and Sam Murphy receive their Covid-19 booster shots at Monmouth Medical Center on Nov. 28, 2021.
Gov. Phil Murphy, First Lady Tammy Murphy, and Emma, Charlie and Sam Murphy receive their COVID-19 booster shots at Monmouth Medical Center on Nov. 28, 2021. – EDWIN J. TORRES / NJ GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

“The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the biggest challenges our state – and nation – has ever faced,” Murphy said in a statement. “Throughout the pandemic, my responsibility as governor demanded that I make every decision based on the available data, facts, and science in order to preserve the health and safety of all 9.3 million residents, regardless of the politics. My responsibility as governor also demands a full and comprehensive review of how the state was prepared for and responded to the pandemic, so that we can take the steps to better prepare future administrations for a public health crisis.”

Murphy said that although COVID-19 is still present in our lives, he believes that we have moved from pandemic to endemic.

“Now is the right time to undertake such a review,” said Murphy.

The governor also believes that Zoubek is the right person to lead this review.

Zoubek, who served as first assistant attorney general during the administrations of Republican Govs. Christie Whitman and Donald DiFrancesco, has extensive experience in emergency management and has conducted a number of high-profile investigations of state governments, including a review of the State Police’s boxing program last year.

“As a widely respected, apolitical, and experienced state and federal prosecutor, Paul Zoubek is exactly the right person to lead this review, and has the experience in emergency management and government investigations that makes him perfectly suited for this task,” said Murphy. “I am grateful to him, the rest of the team at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoades, and the Boston Consulting Group for agreeing to take on this important project.”

The announcement comes on the heels of several developments at the beleaguered New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, which NJBIZ has reported on.

A closer look for veterans

Earlier Monday, state Sen. Joe Pennachio, R-26th District, called on Senate Democrats to support a legislative investigation of state-run veterans homes.

“My Democrat colleagues have consistently turned a blind eye to efforts to get to the bottom of issues that plagued our veterans homes and resulted in hundreds of unnecessary deaths since the start of the pandemic,” said Pennacchio. “Clearly the Legislature’s failure to do an investigation earlier was a big mistake. A timely review could have yielded answers to help make facilities safer. Instead, there have been new outbreaks, veterans are still dying, and the feds have cut funding.”

Senate Republicans say that such an investigation can run concurrently with the review announced by Murphy today, citing “Bridgegate.”

“Theres’s no reason investigations can’t be conducted simultaneously by both the executive and legislative branches as Democrats demonstrated when they held special ‘Bridgegate’ hearings while Randy Mastro was conducting a review of GWB [George Washington Bridge] lane closure for the Christie Administration,” Senate Republican Director of Communications Brad Schnure told NJBIZ in an email.

Schnure said his members also have questions about the review, such as how this law firm was selected, the scope of the examination and whether the use of a law firm was intended to hide documents from the public under the guise of attorney-client privilege.

Meanwhile, Sens. Joe Vitale, D-19th District; Joe Cryan, D-20th District; Vin Gopal, D-11th District; Joe Lagana, D-38th District; and Patrick Diegnan, D-18th District, who are working together to develop reforms at the state-run veterans homes, issued a joint statement following Monday’s announcement of the review.

The Senate Democrats are on board with the process, which they say should be conducted in addition to moving forward with what they describe as thorough, institutional reforms at the state-run veterans homes.

“We welcome the outside review as a means of assessing the state’s response to the COVID crisis so we can better learn what was done well and what actions need to be corrected and improved,” the Senate Democrats wrote. “We can’t shy away from any hard lessons that will help gain a full understanding of the successes and shortcomings in managing what was an unprecedented public health crisis.”