Justice Department issues scathing report of state’s handling of COVID-19 in veterans facilities

The state of New Jersey was heavily criticized for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in state-run veterans homes in a scathing 43-page report by the U.S. Justice Department released Thursday.

The report noted a “systemic inability” to implement care and outlined failures at the homes in Menlo Park and Paramus, citing poor communication and a lack of staff competency that let the virus spread “virtually unchecked throughout the facilities.”

The report found that, even after the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department arrived in the state to help in April 2020 — when the pandemic was starting to take off — the state Military and Veterans Affairs Department failed to implement its recommendations and otherwise reform infection control.

At that time, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration directed veterans homes not to turn away patients who had tested positive, an order that was later rescinded. More than 200 residents of the homes died during the pandemic.

To be fair, northern New Jersey/New York City was ground zero for the pandemic — and little was known about how to handle the pandemic in the earliest stages.

The Governor’s Office issued a statement from Murphy in response to the report:

“The U.S. Department of Justice’s report on the veterans homes in Menlo Park and Paramus 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. 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.”