New Jersey nursing home’s “makeshift morgue” sparks broader coronavirus probe
04/17/2020 / By Franz Walker / Comments
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New Jersey nursing home’s “makeshift morgue” sparks broader coronavirus probe

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered an investigation into nursing homes in the state after a “makeshift morgue” was found at a facility that had been devastated by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The governor said that he was “outraged” that the bodies of patients who had succumbed to the virus were allowed to pile up at a long-term care facility in Andover and asked his attorney general to launch the probe.

“New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity,” stated Gov. Murphy.

Overwhelmed by the number of bodies

The New Jersey probe comes as health officials all over America deal with mounting deaths at long-term care facilities where the virus has taken a heavy toll. The age of the residents of these facilities, combined with the fact that most of them live close together and get cared for by the same staff, has made them particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“You have people who by definition are medically fragile and at-risk and you add to that this terrible virus,” explained Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, the New Jersey state ombudsman for long-term care facilities. “It’s hitting crisis proportions now.”

The probe was sparked by an incident at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II, where authorities found several bodies inside a makeshift morgue at the facility. According to a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s health department, a total of 66 residents of the nursing home have died, half of which had tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement provided by the Andover police department, facility co-owner Chaim Sheinbaum explained that “the backup and after-hours holiday weekend issues, plus more than average deaths, contributed to the presence of more deceased than normal in the facility holding room.”

“The staff was overwhelmed by the number of bodies,” stated Andover Police Chief Eric Danielson to reporters. Danielson added that his officers helped move 13 bodies to a refrigerated trailer at another medical site.

On Thursday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal confirmed that his office was now investigating the high number of deaths at certain nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the state.

Lack of communication cited

Rep. Josh Gottenheimer, whose district covers Andover Township, said that he received calls and emails from concerned relatives of the nursing home’s residents about the facility’s lack of communication with them.

“One of my concerns is that these facilities are not communicating in real-time,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing from families. That’s outrageous, it’s completely unacceptable that they have to call me for updates.”

New Jersey isn’t the only state dealing with rising numbers of deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Nursing homes all over the country are dealing with an increased number of coronavirus patients and deaths.

This issue is compounded by the lack of communication on the actual number of patients and deaths in these facilities. Recently, it came to light that a number of states themselves were no longer tracking the number of deaths from the coronavirus in their nursing homes due to privacy concerns.

According to experts, the lack of reporting is hurting efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus in these nursing homes. Without this data, it’ll be hard to determine which facilities need more help in fighting the disease.

“It’s critical to have accurate information about which nursing homes have residents with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and which facilities need more staff and personal protective equipment, so that states can target additional resources where the need is greatest,” said Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

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