According to the Manasquan-based sandwich chain, 20% of all sales Nov. 18-19 at its more than 2,500 locations across the U.S. were donated to the organization, which is working to keep the shelves of food banks stocked this holiday season.
In the past three years, Jersey Mike’s has donated more than $15 million to Feeding America, helping provide over 150 million meals through the nonprofit’s nationwide network of 200-plus partners.
Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, said her organization is “deeply grateful for partners like Jersey Mike’s in the movement to end hunger.”
She added, “Their ongoing commitment to the mission is helping to support communities and nourish futures.”
Jersey Mike’s will once again raise funds for Wreaths Across America, a coordinated effort across the country to remember fallen heroes by placing a wreath on the grave sites of veterans. This year, the chain seeks to help WAA reach its goal of having a fresh wreath on every eligible marker at Arlington National Cemetery for Dec. 16, National Wreaths Across America Day.
Since 2010, Jersey Mike’s – which is known for its many philanthropic efforts – has supported the WAA’s mission “to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach the next generation the value of freedom,” contributing more than $3.5 million, according to founder and CEO Peter Cancro.
Nationwide, more than 2.7 million sponsored veterans’ wreaths were placed last year in honor of service members, including those buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The incredible team at Jersey Mike’s Subs has been such a tremendous part of the growth of the program for more than a decade,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America. “Their continued support ensures that we will be able to fulfill our mission in remembrance of the brave men and women who committed themselves unselfishly at the most critical moments in our nation’s history to ensure our freedom.”
The first service-disabled veteran and Latino-owned dispensary in New Jersey is open for business.
After launching The Cannabis Place as New York’s first licensed home delivery cannabis service earlier this year, retired U.S. Marine Osbert Orduna’s venture made its New Jersey debut, unveiling a flagship storefront Nov. 9 in Jersey City.
Orduna, The Cannabis Place’s CEO, said, “We picked this week to open because it’s symbolic in many ways: I am an Iraq veteran; we have the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans Day, so opening Jersey City’s first service-disabled, veteran-owned business makes this week even more special to us and our team.”
Growing up in New York City public housing, Orduna – a first-generation Latino American of Columbian decent – said he has first-hand knowledge of “the indignity of what it feels like to personally be stopped and frisked nearly 100 times, which is what happened to me as a kid and young adult for doing nothing else other than being a poor Latino growing up in the ‘hood.’”
As an Education Opportunity Fund scholar, Orduna was the first in his family to attend college, receiving a business degree and graduate certificate in law. While serving with the United States Marine Corps, he earned the designation of disabled veteran while deployed in Iraq.
After retiring from public service and becoming an entrepreneur, Orduna became interested in cannabis as an alternative to addictive prescription opioid drugs for veterans dealing with PTSD.
In starting his own business, Orduna looked to his military background and life experiences as inspiration to establish a model for other cannapreneurs to follow, one that demonstrates cannabis companies can bring economic empowerment and equity back into local communities.
According to Orduna, The Cannabis Place is focused on launching social equity dispensaries that create union careers with true living wages, no-cost health benefits and retirement plans, with a special focus on marginalized communities, veterans and those impacted by the failed war on drugs.
Held at The Cannabis Place’s community impact room adjacent to its Jersey City shop, the two-week course showed nearly two dozen local participants the basics of working in a cannabis retail environment from the union. Following graduation, every student has now begun their journey to a unionized cannabis dispensary career with The Cannabis Place, the local said.
“We are a partner with our local community,” said Orduna. “That means running an ethical, pro-union company and boosting the prospects and prosperity of our neighbors. The Cannabis Place does that and is living proof that workforce investment equals immediate positive community impact. People now have opportunities for union careers here, no one was bringing this opportunity to the south side of Jersey City, I am proud to say that we are leading by example. People deserve an opportunity, whatever their background and skill level, and regardless of their history.”
“No one has done this before,” said Hugh Giordano, director of organizing at UFCW Local 360, which represents hundreds of thousands of employees in dispensaries, labs, manufacturing, processing, delivery and grow facilities across the U.S.
“We have a visionary employer harnessing our unmatched cannabis industry expertise to train ambitious, local, but often overlooked talent. It’s a scalable and repeatable model that delivers great value for employees, owners and consumers,” he said. “The best employers recognize the enormous untapped pool of amazing talent out there. Programs like this help attract that talent and release its potential.”
Located at 1542 Kennedy Blvd. in Jersey City, The Cannabis Place is open from noon to 8 p.m. daily, offering adult-use sales of flower, prerolls, vapes, concentrates, topicals and edibles.
During a Veterans Day ceremony over the weekend in Holmdel, acting Gov. Tahesha Way announced the launch of the initial phase of the Unite New Jersey Veterans digital platform to modernize veteran services.
According to the Governor’s Office, the platform will update the way veterans connect with benefits, employment, education, housing and mental health programs. Unite New Jersey Veterans is designed to empower frontline veteran service providers to refer veterans in the Garden State to the resources and services they need.
Funded via a $3 million appropriation in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, hospitals, social service agencies, and other case managers will be enabled to send and receive electronic referrals and records through the secure digital platform to help improve health outcomes and address the needs of veterans and their families.
“As we recognize Veterans Day, our administration reaffirms its ongoing commitment to supporting New Jersey’s heroic veterans,” said Way in a Nov. 11 press release, who was serving as acting governor while Gov. Phil Murphy was traveling out of state. “Today, we announce the Unite New Jersey Veterans platform, which will launch on Jan. 1, 2024, and connect service providers throughout New Jersey. Unite New Jersey Veterans will streamline the process for veterans and military families seeking access to the care and benefits they have earned.”
“The number of people wanting to help veterans inspires me daily,” said Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou, commissioner of Military and Veterans Affairs and the adjunct general of New Jersey. “This digital referral network is a way to further empower in support of our heroes.”
“Navigating the complexities of identifying, applying for and obtaining veteran benefits can be quite challenging,” said Phil Pesano, president, NJ Vietnam Veterans of America State Council, who commended the effort to lessen those challenges.
“The State of New Jersey is implementing a major improvement in the way veterans obtain services with this new easier access to benefits system,” said retired U.S. Air Force Col. Nelson Mellitz, Jewish War Veterans. “We look forward to using this centralized system for veterans to obtain much needed and earned services.”
In a scathing 43-page report released Thursday, the Justice Department announced the findings of a nearly three-year investigation into two troubled, state-run veterans homes in New Jersey, concluding that the state subjected residents at the Menlo Park and Paramus locations to conditions that violated the 14th Amendment.
DOJ says that these veterans face unreasonable harm and risk due to inadequate infection control practices and inadequate medical care – pointing to a lack of effective management and oversight. The Justice Department says, as well, that the deficiencies expose residents to uncontrolled, serious and deadly infections that have resulted in the facilities suffering among the highest number of resident deaths of all similarly sized facilities in the region.
“The United States Department of Justice finds reasonable cause to believe that the State of New Jersey has systematically violated the 14th Amendment rights of the residents of the Veterans Memorial Homes at Menlo Park and Paramus, two state-run nursing facilities for veterans and their families,” DOJ wrote in the report. “Those violations continue.”
The veterans’ homes, which are operated by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, were at the epicenter of the COVID crisis here in New Jersey when more than 200 residents died. During that time period, the governor’s office came under fire for a number of directives and policies regarding the facilities.
“The Coronavirus disease (COVID) outbreak in March and April of 2020 devastated the Veterans Memorial Homes at Menlo Park and Paramus. One worker described the situation in Paramus as ‘pure hell.’ Another described Menlo Park as a ‘battlefield,’” the DOJ report says.
“Even by the standards of the pandemic’s difficult early days, the facilities were unprepared to keep their residents safe,” according to the report. “A systemic inability to implement clinical care policy, poor communication between management and staff, and a failure to ensure basic staff competency let the virus spread virtually unchecked throughout the facilities.
“During the first wave of the pandemic, the veterans’ homes had the first and fourth highest number of publicly reported resident COVID deaths of all long-term care facilities in the State of New Jersey,” the report continued. “As discussed below, the actual number of COVID deaths was likely much higher.”
In a press release announcing the findings, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Philip Sellinger said that those who served to protect this nation and their families are entitled to appropriate care when they reside at a veterans’ home.
“The Paramus and Menlo Park veterans’ homes fail to provide the care required by the U.S. Constitution and subject their residents to unacceptable conditions, including inadequate infection control and deficient medical care,” said Sellinger. “These conditions must swiftly be addressed to ensure that our veterans and their families at these facilities receive the care they so richly deserve. We will not stop working until they do.”
“Based on our investigation, we have found that these facilities have provided inadequate protection from infections and deficient medical care, which have caused these veterans and their families great harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
More work to do
In a statement, Murphy said the report is a deeply disturbing reminder that the treatment received by “our heroic veterans is unacceptable and, quite frankly, appalling.”
“In an effort to provide our veterans with the care they deserve, over the past three years, our administration has instituted numerous processes and procedures to improve conditions, including most recently securing private management and assistance for these two homes,” said Murphy. “However, it is clear that we have significantly more work to do, and we are open to exploring all options to deliver for our veterans the high level of care they deserve and are entitled to under the law. We commend the Legislature for their partnership to help us improve conditions, and we will continue to work together in any capacity to provide world-class care and services to our heroes and support to those who care for them.”
Last November, Murphy announced the launch of a long-awaited independent review into the state’s handling of the pandemic, which is being led by Paul Zoubek of Philadelphia law firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP in conjunction with Boston Consulting Group.
The governor’s office had anticipated that review to be released in late 2023 with recommendations for enhancements and reforms.
Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, said that Thursday’s sobering report confirms what many vets and their families already knew about the serious violations and management failures that put so many of the most vulnerable at risk during the pandemic.
“This was an unacceptable way to treat our veterans or anyone in need of care, especially from a trusted source. Many of the failures that are itemized in this report are jarring and will undoubtedly require us to take further action to ensure the State of New Jersey performs to the level our residents deserve,” said Scutari. “The COVID-19 crisis might be over, but the virus remains with us and we must take the steps necessary to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”
“Our state has no greater duty than to provide the best possible care for veterans. The report today highlights failures to provide that care that are unacceptable,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D- 19th District. “The Legislature will take whatever steps necessary to ensure improved care and conditions for New Jersey veterans. All options for comprehensive change are on the table to guarantee this never happens again.”
Republican lawmakers – who have long been critical of Murphy’s pandemic-related decisions, especially about the conditions at the veterans’ homes – immediately called for more answers and accountability.
“This administration failed our veterans. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of our heroes have died due to inadequate medical care and a lack of effective management and oversight,” said Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-26th District. “After three years of inaction from Democrats in the Legislature stonewalling calls for a comprehensive investigation, it is now time to hold this administration accountable for the harm done to veterans and nursing home residents.”
“The DOJ’s report will be a permanent stain on this administration and revealed what we long knew to be true – that Gov. Murphy violated the U.S. Constitution by sweeping the suffering of veterans under the rug. Unfortunately, his administration’s egregious failures have continued to bring harm to these heroes. Murphy must take accountability and immediately address the conditions at Menlo Park and Paramus,” said Assembly Republican Leader, John DiMaio, R-23rd District. “Lives are at stake.”
As required by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), under which the investigation was conducted, the Justice Department provided the state with its conclusions and supporting facts as well as notified it of the minimal remedial measures necessary to address the alleged violations.
“We look forward to working with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to improve the conditions in these homes they operate and ensure these veterans and their families receive the care they need and deserve,” Clarke added.
Cooper University Health Care has introduced a program to help military veterans who may find it difficult to make in-person visits.
Funded by a $62,000 grant from the Federal Communications Commission, the Tablets for Veterans program will provide the mobile technology to qualified patients who have served in the armed forces, according to a Sept. 5 announcement.
The grant will cover the costs of 50 tablets for three years and includes internet service.
“We know that individuals with chronic conditions are at risk of developing complications and possible hospitalization when they are not able to access health care. We also know that many of the veterans we serve have transportation issues, creating barriers to care,” Max Kursh, director of population health at Cooper Health, said in a statement.
Kursh, who’s overseeing the Tablets for Veterans program, added, “By providing tablet devices for these vulnerable individuals, we will help improve communications and maintain vital connections with their health care providers to allow them to manage their care successfully at home.”
The staff at Camden-based Cooper Health and Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills will identify current patients for the program based on who may have difficulties making the trip to see a health care provider, according to a Cooper Health spokesperson.
“Our veterans have given of themselves to serve our country, so we want to be able to thank them for their service by developing innovative programs to meet their needs,” Kursh said.
Cooper and Deborah provide a range of services to active military and veterans through HeroCare Connect, a resource that links military families, active duty and retired military, and veterans with specialty care services.
Looking out for veterans
On Aug. 25, Gov. Phil Murphy signed bipartisan legislation into law that aims to protect veterans and their families from potential fraudsters. Click here to read more.
Establishes the circumstances under which compensation may be sought;
Requires terms of service and compensation to be in writing;
Prohibits individuals from guaranteeing any specific result when offering their services;
Requires individuals to disclose any affiliations they may have with the VA, DMAVA, or other federally chartered service organizations prior to entering into an agreement with the veteran or their family.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line in service to our country and have more than earned the benefits for which they and their loved ones are eligible,” said Murphy. “We must protect veterans and their families from unscrupulous individuals who would take advantage of them by overcharging for assistance with those benefits. This legislation will help ensure these bad actors either follow all applicable federal standards or face the consequences.”
Under the new law, any violation of the terms would be considered a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, which could result in monetary or other penalties.
“New Jersey veterans deserve to be treated with respect for the sacrifices they’ve made, not financially exploited in their time of need,” said Cari Fais, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “This legislation makes it easier for the Division to hold accountable those who cheat veterans under the guise of helping them access benefits they earned while defending our country and our freedoms.”
“Our Garden State veterans, who exemplified honor and integrity during their service in uniform, rightfully deserve honest support from those who assist them in securing their hard-earned benefits,” said Brig. Gen. Lisa Hou, NJDMAVA commissioner and the adjunct general of New Jersey. “The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has federally trained and certified Veterans Services Officers employed throughout the state for the express purpose of providing free-of-charge help to veterans navigating claims and appeals for state and federal benefits.”
‘A layer of transparency’
The bipartisan measure, which received unanimous support in the Legislature, was sponsored by state Sens. Vin Gopal, D-11th District, and Shirley Turner, D-15th District, as well as Assembly members Joe Danielsen, D-17th District; Sean Kean, R-30th District; and Michele Matsikoudis, R-21st District.
In July, a 41-year-old Colts Neck man was charged with allegedly defrauding two dozen Gold Star families. Click here to read more.
“Veterans who served and protected our country from our enemies abroad now find themselves in need of protection here at home from bad actors, scammers, and dishonest brokers who would target them for ill-gotten financial gain,” said Gopal. “This law adds a layer of transparency concerning those who seek to advise veterans about benefits and claims, bars these unaccredited consultants from receiving any compensation for services that aren’t now recognized under federal law and keeps our veterans safe from unscrupulous operators who would prey upon them.”
“Helping veterans access their earned benefits is a privilege, not an opportunity pad one’s pockets,” said Kean. “This law protects New Jersey veterans and their families from the bad actors out there who want to take advantage of their service.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of New Jersey applauded the measure and thanked the Legislature for its bipartisan support, “which led to today’s action by the governor on this law making it a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act for persons to receive compensation for advising or assisting or referring any individual to another person to advise or assist, with any veterans benefits matter, except as is permitted under federal law,” the organization said in a statement.
“In addition to our state offices, there are Federal VA offices and a number of volunteer organizations that also seek to help veterans better understand and pursue their benefits and entitlements, providing a wealth of experiences and lessons learned free-of-charge,” Hou added. “I encourage all New Jerseyans who have worn the uniform to connect with our VSOs by visiting www.nj.gov/military for a list of offices, or call us, toll-free at 1-888-8N-J-VETS.”
The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee cleared a series of bills to support veterans during a Jan. 30 hearing at the State House in Trenton.
The legislative package is focused on providing aid in a number of ways.
In advance of the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Joe Cryan, D-20th District, said the meeting offered an opportunity to focus on the businesses and organizations that are leading the way with resourceful and innovative programs that actively support veterans and their families.
Bills unanimously cleared by the committee include:
Senate Bill 1264 – concerns professional licensing and application fees for spouse or dependent of active-duty member of United States Armed Forces
Senate Bill 3292 – prohibits persons from receiving compensation for advising or assisting with veterans’ benefits
Senate Bill 3475 – allows for issuance of two-year temporary courtesy license for nonresident military spouses in certain professions
Senate Bill 3484 –requires Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provide a central website registry of unclaimed veteran organization locating services; requires funeral director report possession of unclaimed veteran cremains
Senate Bill 3485 –increases personal needs allowance to $50 for recipients of Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income who are veterans or spouses; provides for annual cost-of-living increase in allowance
Senate Bill 3492 –requires converting portion of Paramus and Menlo Park veterans’ memorial homes into single occupancy and negative pressure ventilation rooms in addition to upgrades to ventilation systems
Senate Joint Resolution 106 –designates April 14 of each year as “Military Child Appreciation Day” in N.J.
“They are examples of what can be done for the men and women who have served and sacrificed in the armed forces,” said Cryan. “We have a shared responsibility to honor their service with support and assistance for those in need.”
The meeting featured testimony by a number of businesses and organizations to highlight their efforts to support the veterans community, including: Bristol Meyer Squib, Verizon, Volunteers of America, the United Services Automobile Association, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, NJ Vet2Vet, NJ SOS Veterans and NJ Bankers Association.
“We are honored to have some folks who do incredible work, both in the corporate America side and in the nonprofit side,” said Cryan at the outset. “And wanted to give the committee, and hopefully many ears besides, the opportunity to hear and understand the good works that folks do.”
Cryan noted the recent 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Accords, as well as Monday marking the 55th anniversary of the start of the Tet Offensive.
“The majority of veterans in New Jersey look back to the Vietnam conflict as part of their service,” said Cryan. “And today, along your thoughts and travels, and as we do the good work of this committee and you bring us the good forth work that you do, please remember those heroes who died in those conflicts as we remember them always.”
Gov. Phil Murphy announced this fall that the state was seeking outside management for New Jersey’s beleaguered state-run veterans homes. Click here to read the story.
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.”
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.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Nov. 22 his administration is sending a Mission Critical Team to the Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park to offer its expertise as the beleaguered state-run facility continues to come under fire for a number of failures.
The move follows a scathing report filed by inspectors that led to a Tuesday deadline to correct the problems or risk being stripped of federal funding by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which would likely result in the closing of the facility.
The Menlo Park location was among the hardest-hit veterans homes during the onset of COVID-19, along with Paramus, with more than 200 residents dying at those facilities throughout the pandemic.
There have been recently reported outbreaks as well, in addition to the stern warnings from the federal government.
Murphy’s office says two members of the three-person team arrived onsite this week to begin assessing the situation. The group, which works within the state Department of Health’s Office of Long-Term Care Resiliency, is comprised of an experienced administrator, a nurse consultant and an infection preventionist.
The team’s stated goal is to collaborate with facility leaders and staff to improve quality of care through mentoring, coaching, and sharing of operational and clinical best practices.
“While my administration has taken important steps to improve the performance and strengthen the resiliency of our veterans memorial homes over the past few years, it is clear our work is not done,” said Murphy. “The Department of Health’s inspection of the Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park has given us crucial insight into the challenges currently facing this facility. We must, and will, hold state-owned facilities to the same standards as we hold privately-owned long-term care facilities. It is our solemn duty as a state to protect the health and well-being of the veterans in our care – the very veterans who once put their lives on the line to protect this nation.”
‘Another tool in the toolbox’
The team is expected to spend a minimum of one month at the facility, reviewing all processes and embedding best practices for improvements. During this period, NJDOH’s Infection Control Assessment & Response (ICAR) team will also be onsite to support resident and health care personnel safety and quality improvement.
“The Department sent this team to collaborate with leaders and staff to improve and sustain the quality of care in the veterans home,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “The team has already begun their assessment and collaboration with onsite staff to make needed improvements.”
The request to send in the team was made by New Jersey Adjutant Gen. Lisa Hou, who says her top priorities are to provide high-quality care to residents, attract and retain qualified staff, and improve infection control in the facilities.
“The mission critical team provides additional expertise during this difficult time,” said Hou. “I requested the team as another tool in the toolbox to continually improve the quality of care for our residents, evaluate our staff processes, and renew our dedication to the veterans in our care.”
The move announced by Murphy also follows Senate Republicans turning up the heat on the issue.
On Tuesday, they wrote a scathing letter to Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District, calling for a special legislative committee with subpoena power to investigate the “continuing failures at state-run veterans homes.” Senate Republicans noted the dozens of attempts they have made since May 2020 for a bipartisan effort to investigate and identify solutions for the failures, which they say have been ignored by Senate Democrats.
“In addition to ignoring our many requests, we note with dismay that the Majority has actively blocked our efforts to bring resolutions for a vote to form an investigative committee,” the 16 Republican members wrote in the letter. “As a result of the Majority’s repeated refusal to act – either on our proposals or any other – serious problems in our veterans homes remain unresolved.”
They say that the Legislature has done next to nothing to improve protections for veterans home residents — and that it hasn’t worked.
“Therefore, we call on the Majority to join us in supporting the passage of Senate Resolution 32, which would constitute the ‘Senate Select Committee on the Executive Branch’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,'” the Senate Republicans wrote.
Following the letter and Murphy’s announcement, Senate Democrats put out a statement of their own that did not address their Senate counterparts’ call for the special committee.
Instead, the statement noted the efforts of 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 Senate Democrats say have been working together to develop reforms to help correct the problems at the state-run veterans homes.
The group of senators say they welcome the deployment of the team.
“It underscores the need for institutional reforms to improve the quality of care at Menlo Park and the other state-run homes for veterans,” they said. “We look forward to the finding of the team and the health inspectors in order to fully understand the hard lessons that need to be learned from the reoccurring problems that have occurred at Menlo Park and elsewhere. The conditions need to be corrected.”
The senators believe that wholesale, permanent changes are needed.
“We need to work to develop a thoughtful and thorough plan that ensures the best possible care and treatment of the residents, their families, and caregivers,” the Senate Democrats said. “We must live up to the promise that was made to the men and women who served our country with selfless honor. They have earned our gratitude and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
To recognize Veterans Day last week, Virtua Health launched a new resource group for employees who are military veterans or reservists.
WE Serve, announced Nov. 10, is a colleague “affinity group” focused on the needs and issues of present and former members of the armed forces.
In one of its inaugural acts, the group organized free meals Nov. 11, for Veterans Day, across Virtua’s five hospital cafeterias – in Camden, Marlton, Mount Holly, Voorhees and Willinboro – for any veteran or active-duty military member from the community or on staff, in addition to a moment of silence across all the campuses.
According to the South Jersey-based health care system, WE Serve is just one of several “colleague communities” it hosts, which serve to build relationships and organize events and community-service opportunities. In particular, the new group aims to help the local military community, as well.
Here to Serve
In 2021, Virtua launched this new service, dedicated to coordinating care for veterans and active military members.
With its Virtua Mount Holly Hospital location in close proximity to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the effort includes a dedicated health navigator to coordinate care.
“We want those who serve our nation to concentrate on getting and staying well,” said Dr. Reg Blaber, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Virtua Health. “Our process is simple: call us and we’ll handle the details.”
“In addition to looking within, our aim is for WE Serve to be a bridge to military families in the region. We want them to know that Virtua is here for their health care needs,” said John Kirby, president of Virtua Mount Holly and Virtua Willingboro hospitals, in a statement.
Kirby also serves as the executive ambassador of the new colleague community.
One of WE Serve’s first projects has to do with record keeping; specifically, making patients’ military service more prominent in the provider’s digital record system to help to foster closer relationships with medical providers.
“This initiative gives colleagues in certain patient-facing roles a way to recognize and thank those who are veterans or active military. It is a small way to demonstrate respect, but it will go a long way,” said Virtua Health nursing director S. Jeanette Conrad-Mckee. Conrad-Mckee will chair the WE Serve group for its first two years. Before her career as a nurse, she enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and completed training to become a field medic.
Other recent activities by the group include placing flowers and flags on veterans’ graves at Lakeview Memorial Park in Cinnaminson as part of the national Flag and Flower Challenge.
The capitalization of WE in the system’s latest group references the systems “Culture of WE,” guiding principles – centered on inclusive teamwork, purposeful leadership and caring with accountability – that were established by Virtua after its acquisition of Lourdes Health System in 2019, the provider said.
In addition to WE Serve, Virtua’s colleague-led communities also include: Women at Virtua, Black and African American Colleague Community, OUT at Virtua (for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies) and VirtuAsia (for colleagues who are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders).
Two more groups are also under development, Virtua said: a group geared toward team members under the age of 30 and another for Latinx colleagues.
“At Virtua Health, we believe our culture unites us in being the community’s trusted choice for health care and wellness,” said Rhonda Jordan, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, in a prepared statement. “Therefore, it’s critical that each member of our team knows they belong and that they add value.”
Provident Bank launched an employee resources group (ERG) specifically geared toward embracing and supporting veterans in the workplace.
In a Nov. 11 press release announcing “Provident Salutes,” the Iselin-based financial institution said the initiative will also focus on providing a platform for education and resources for its employees who have served in the military.
In addition, the ERG will develop and recommend programs to enrich veterans’ experiences, increase awareness of veterans’ contributions, expand the bank’s reach with veteran and military organizations in the community, and provide networking opportunities with veterans across the organization, according to Provident.
The group will be led by Joseph Chinnici, a banking center manager at the Wyckoff branch and U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He is also a past commander of the Veterans of Foreign War chapter in Allendale.
Rebeca Merendino, an information security analyst and an Army veteran who served in the Middle East during Operation Spartan Shield, will hold the role of vice president.
During a celebration of the launch of Provident Salutes on Veterans Day, Xavia Mitchell, first vice president, senior human resources and diversity business partner, said, “This initiative is consistent with our commitment to enhance the employee experience at Provident Bank.”
“The members of Provident Salutes will work together to identify topics, content, and initiatives that will support veterans and active service members throughout the organization,” added Mitchell.
The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) announced securing critical funding and support to pave the way for a program that will give veterans and their families access to new training and career placement opportunities.
Announced Sept. 29, the initiative was made possible by funding awarded by the Department of Defense – Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation, NJMEP, and partners from around the state. It aims to support veterans and their families as they transition from military service into the civilian workforce.
NJMEP says it will work to support Picatinny Arsenal’s Joint Center for Excellence for Guns and Ammunition to train and place vets and their families in the advanced manufacturing industry.
“Advanced manufacturing provides incredible, sustainable career opportunities for our nation’s veterans and their family members. Often, these individuals are a perfect match to support the Department of Defense and its supply chain because of the training and experience they received while enlisted,” said Torsten Schimanski, senior director of workforce development & strategic growth, NJMEP. “This investment into this underserved community will go so far in helping veterans gain the industry-relevant knowledge they will need to make a smooth transition into advanced manufacturing.”
More support for vets
SJI recently announced its participation in the Partnership for Your Success program, which was designed to create a “talent pipeline” between the Army and U.S. companies for hiring military personnel. Read more here.
The project is part of efforts to strengthen the domestic DoD advanced manufacturing supply chain — ensuring a locally, highly trained workforce exists while supporting transitioning military families with training and job placement at careers that have an average annual compensation of more than $97,000 per year.
The training opportunities, which will be offered by NJMEP and County College of Morris, focus on foundational manufacturing skills, such as CNC and welding, as well as certifications in safety and production processes. The program is available for five years and 1,200 participants.
NJMEP is also inviting manufacturers and suppliers in the Department of Defense supply chain to join the newly formed consortium. Some partners already involved include, New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC), The African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, The National Armaments Consortium (NAC), The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and US Manufacturing Institutes.
“Not only is the training a key aspect of this exciting initiative, but we will also be working together with industry and community partners to place these newly trained, highly reliable individuals at manufacturing organizations all around the state,” said John Kennedy, CEO, NJMEP. “It closes the loop, so this amazing population isn’t left to transition back into the civilian world without the support they deserve.”
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-11tth District, who serves on the House Armed Services committee, noted that New Jersey received one of just six such grants across the country for this program.
“I am thrilled to see this grant funding coming to New Jersey that will create job training positions for over 600 veterans and family members over the next five years,” said Sherrill. “Thank you to NJMEP and the many organizations, including NJ Pathways, the NJ Veterans Chamber of Commerce, and the County College of Morris, for your ongoing partnership in advocating for the manufacturing sector here in the Garden State.”
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