Gov. Phil Murphy announced Nov. 30 that the state will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek outside management for New Jersey’s beleaguered state-run veterans homes.
It is the latest development for the three troubled facilities, which were at the epicenter of the COVID crisis here, and follows the recent deployment of a Mission Critical Team to the Menlo Park site.
The process will be overseen by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA), which is tasked with finding vendors to provide management of initiatives aimed at improving operations, including training leadership and reviewing current job descriptions, policies and procedures to revise them as necessary.
The vendor will also be required to provide a qualified team of administrative staff, including a chief executive officer and chief nursing officer, to oversee day-to-day implementation of these initiatives on site.
In a statement, Murphy said that improving care for veterans at the state-run facilities remains a crucial priority for the administration.
“Sending a Mission Critical Team into Menlo Park to guide and advise facility staff was an important step in working towards this goal, but is certainly not the only step we must take,” said Murphy. “By seeking experienced leadership – the best of the best – to oversee systemic reforms and bring seasoned staff on board, we will harness the expertise and impartiality of an outside vendor to ensure the implementation of thorough, long-lasting reforms in these homes.”
The governor’s office says that given the significance and breadth of the vendor’s responsibilities, any proposal must demonstrate understanding of the obligations. As such, the administration is seeking a candidate with extensive, proven experience in long-term care health administration and handling projects of a similar size and scope in long-term care settings with team members who possess clinical, operations and facility expertise.
Noting the challenges at the Menlo Park facility, Murphy’s office says that the vendor would immediately assume the role of interim CEO while working to find a suitable replacement for the position. The vendor will be required to maintain regular communication with DMAVA leadership and respond to correspondences and recommendations from the Mission Critical Team.
Changes will be made at Menlo Park before being applied to the other two facilities.
“The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and our interagency partners are moving aggressively to ensure the highest standards of care for the veterans, veteran spouses, and Gold Star Families in our care,” said Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou, the adjutant general and commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affair. “We are in a daily battle with COVID-19 and our team welcomes this anticipated support. As a physician and a combat veteran, I have known no greater mission than the one we face in this fight to protect our heroes.”
The right move
In the statement from the governor’s office, two Senate Democrats who are part of a group that have been working on this issue say they agree with the decision.
“Bringing in a first-rate operator focused squarely on the best health care and well-being of our veterans is absolutely critical,” said Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District, chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Our veterans held up their end of the bargain, it’s our time to hold up ours.”
“Our veterans deserve experts who understand all aspects of long-term care management and can bring that expertise into these homes to give New Jersey’s veterans the quality of care they deserve in honor of the sacrifices they have made on behalf of this nation,” said Sen. Joe Cryan, D-20th District, chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans continue to call for a legislative investigation into the troubles at the state-run facilities, recently penning a scathing letter to Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District.
“The postmortem on the veterans home tragedy is long overdue. This is about lives and common decency, not partisan politics,” said Sen. Joe Pennachio, R-26th District. “We’re going to give our Democrat colleagues another opportunity to step up and do the right thing.”
The move also comes just days after Murphy announced the long-awaited launch of an independent review into the state’s handling of the pandemic.
Senate Republicans have questions about that process and insist that a potential legislative investigation can happen simultaneously, referencing Bridgegate as precedent.
“It’s sad that it took nearly three years, scathing reports of continued mismanagement at our veterans homes, and the loss of federal funds for Governor Murphy to finally realize he can’t avoid some measure of accountability for his pandemic failures,” said Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-40th District. “We deserve full transparency on how the firms were hired to conduct the review, what they will review or ignore, and the information used to make any determinations.”
“This shouldn’t preclude an independent legislative investigation that should have access to all of the documents, statements, and testimony that will be considered by the firms hired by the governor, some of which has been denied previously to the public, legislators, and the press when requested via OPRA,” Corrado continued.