Medicare cuts off Murphy’s veterans homes for failure to fix death traps

Governor Phil Murphy at the Department of Military and Veteran’s affairs’ Memorial Day Ceremony

After Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration failed to fix major problems at New Jersey’s troubled veterans homes, officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began withholding payments to the New Jersey’s Veteran’s Memorial Home at Menlo Park operated by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA).

Terminated from all Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Edison nursing home is effectively prevented from admitting new residents to the facility, which families across New Jersey depend on to take care of their ailing loved ones, many whom served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“It’s clear that the Murphy administration is unwilling or unable to investigate itself or resolve the mismanagement at our State-run veterans homes that may soon result in the loss of federal funding in at least one facility,” said Republican state Senator Joe Pennacchio. “After hundreds of unnecessary deaths and tens of millions of dollars paid out in legal settlements, it’s shocking they don’t appear to have made any real progress in improving protections for veterans home residents.”

More than 200 residents died at the two hardest-hit veterans homes, in Menlo Park and Paramus, during the pandemic, 158 from confirmed COVID and another 47 presumed to have died from COVID. 

The Menlo Park home had an active outbreak for a year, with 10 residents in a separate unit for COVID and two hospitalized, as of Nov. 15, according to a communication to residents’ families.

Sixteen GOP senators sent a letter asking Senate President Nicholas Scutari to establish a special committee with subpoena power to “investigate continuing failures at state-run veterans homes.”

A whistleblower at the Paramus veterans home who exposed conditions there during height of the COVID-19 pandemic offered to testify if the committee was empaneled.

“I am fully in support of your efforts,” wrote Dave Ofshinsky, the former business manager at the New Jersey Memorial Veterans Home at Paramus, in a letter to Senate Republicans. “Over two years with nothing being done is far too long; this is what prompted me to speak out now. Please note that I am willing to speak with any committee reviewing the operations of DMAVA and the Veterans Homes.”

Democrats in the Senate and Assembly have resisted calls to hold a hearing for more than two years.

Republicans claim the Democrats are trying to spare Murphy from embarrassment rather than find out why hundreds of deaths occurred at the state’s nursing homes.

Last week one prominent Democrat — U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., of Paterson — called on his party to hold hearings “to get to the bottom of this rot.”

“It’s shocking to hear that residents have been physically and verbally abused by their supposed caregivers,” said Pennacchio. “It’s also beyond belief that they still haven’t implemented effective infection control procedures after nearly 200 residents died in veterans homes at the start of the pandemic. Our veterans deserve so much better.”

On October 27, 2020, the Department of Justice notified state officials that it had opened an investigation into conditions of care at the New Jersey Memorial Veterans Homes at Menlo Park and Paramus.

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