Federal investigators this week visited two state-run veterans’ homes as part of the U.S. government investigation into nursing home care deficiencies that had one of the death tolls by the highest COVID in the country, a New Jersey official confirmed Thursday evening.
Sources in both homes said U.S. Department of Justice investigators interviewed residents and staff earlier this week at the Menlo Park Veterans Home and Wednesday and Thursday at its sister facility in Paramus.
Leland Moore, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, confirmed Thursday evening that the federal team was on site in both homes.
âThe DOJ visited the veterans’ homes in Menlo Park and Paramus over the past week,â Moore wrote in an email. âThis visit is part of the normal course of events given their investigation, and we are doing everything possible to make sure they have the information they need.
The Justice Department announced the investigation in October in a letter to Governor Phil Murphy from then-US Attorney Craig Carpenito in New Jersey and Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General in Washington, DC
“Our review of publicly available information raises concerns that the quality of medical care in these nursing homes is poor,” the two wrote.
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Investigators “will examine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law at these two long-term care facilities,” a Justice Department statement said in March. âOur focus will be on the adequacy of medical care for residents in general, and during the coronavirus pandemic in particular. “
Specifically, the department is trying to determine whether there have been violations of the Institutionalized Persons’ Civil Rights Act, which protects residents of nursing homes and other state-run institutions from “blatant conditions.” or egregious âthat cause damage.
Months of coverage by The Record and NorthJersey.com have shown how poor management, lax infection control and an anti-mask policy may have led the two nursing homes to record some of the highest number of COVID-related deaths. high of all long-term care facilities nationwide. Menlo Park had 103 resident deaths while Paramus had 89. A nurse’s aide also died from the virus at each facility.
Last October, a spokesperson for Murphy called the investigation by then-President Donald Trump’s administration, which was running for re-election, politically motivated.
But a year later, the investigation continues with the disappearance of Trump and a change of administration in favor of President Joe Biden, an ally of Murphy. It also continues even though the two officials who launched it no longer work for the Department of Justice. Carpenito, a person appointed by Trump, resigned in early January before Biden’s inauguration. Dreiband too, who is now in private practice.
Similar investigations announced at the same time – in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan – have been dropped, according to a July 23 letter from the Department of Justice.
Seven to nine investigators arrived at the Menlo Park facility on Monday and were on site until Wednesday morning, a source said. Investigators then arrived at Paramus’ home on Wednesday afternoon. They showed up at 6 a.m. on Thursday and were expected to be there until Friday, another source said.
A staff member said he was keen to share his concerns, but “we’re intimidated, we don’t know what they’re looking for and we don’t want to make mistakes.” Another said they hoped to meet investigators in secret because “there are eyes everywhere.”
Also in attendance at the Paramus facility was a Department of Military and Veterans Affairs attorney who serves as the record keeper for the department, and an associate of Lowenstein Sandler, a large New Jersey-based law firm that has was selected by DMAVA for the investigation of the Ministry of Justice.
Outside Paramus’ home on Thursday, the two attorneys asked a NorthJersey.com reporter to contact a spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office, after home CEO Timothy Doyle refused to comment.
COVID quickly spread to the two homes at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
An inspection by federal Medicare officials, first reported by NorthJersey.com, found homes were taking a long time to close common areas. They allowed infected or symptomatic residents to mingle with those who were not sick or waiting for test results. Staff had inadequate personal protective equipment and moved back and forth in rooms among patients with COVID and those who were asymptomatic or uninfected.
Staff were told at the start of the pandemic not to wear protective masks as this would frighten residents. With help from Murphy’s office, managers even devised a series of penalties for nurses who used the home’s supply of masks. Subsequent emails requested by NorthJersey.com regarding the mask policy have been almost entirely redacted.
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Family members of some of the victims were questioned by deputy U.S. prosecutors over the summer, sources said. Dozens of families and staff are suing the state for death and illness.
While one branch of the Attorney General’s office is dealing with the defense of the Justice Department’s investigation, another has also investigated the high death toll as part of a larger investigation into the deaths in the United States. New Jersey nursing homes during the pandemic.
A state grand jury has been appointed, according to a subpoena obtained by NorthJersey.com. Several family members have already been interviewed by Bergen County and Middlesex County investigators working on behalf of the Attorney General.
Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter. Scott Fallon has been covering the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news regarding the pandemic’s impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Twitter: @lindywa @newsfallon