NEWARK, NJ — The city is intervening on privately-owned, state-supervised nursing homes after a series of visits this week that officials allege alarming mismanagement of coronavirus safety procedures, including two dead residents who had been left for two days.
The Saturday announcement from Mayor Ras Baraka comes as the coronavirus rips through long-term care facilities across the state, finding perfect hosts in the elderly, immunocompromised and disabled.
Gov. Phil Murphy reported 252 deaths across these facilities on Friday, 71 of them in nursing homes, while more than 4,100 residents and counting tested positive for the virus. In Newark, the numbers of infected residents at these facilities are currently unknown, though Baraka said residents at some homes were showing clear signs of COVID-19.
“We visited them, and we have been very disturbed by the conditions in these nursing homes and the way they’re taking care of our relatives and our families,” Baraka said over Facebook live. “We are praying and hoping that the state will intervene.”
Newark continues to lead the state in coronavirus cases with 2,669 confirmed positives and 132 deaths, according to Essex County's latest report.
Upon discovery of the two bodies in one senior facility, Newark phoned in assistance from a local funeral home director and contracted a refrigerated truck until the Essex County Medical Examiner’s Office can take the bodies. It is not clear whether they were COVID-19 positive at this time.
About nine additional residents of the home are believed to have the virus. A spokesperson for the city declined to comment regarding which facility required the city’s intervention to remove the deceased, but she said the city is “showing up” to try to prevent outbreaks like those seen in Elizabeth and Wanaque.
Newark has about six privately-owned nursing homes throughout the city. Baraka said Newark is working with various owners to remind them about protocol and sanitation, but ultimately, the facilities answer to the state.
He urged residents to check on their relatives if they have any in long-term care facilities and report any concerns to the Department of Health.
“These nursing homes are responsible for letting the health offices know if people are sick, if they test positive, if people go to the doctor, if people have passed away in there. That’s not happening the way it should,” Baraka said.
On April 8, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the state is working on a plan to assist nursing homes experiencing large outbreaks, staffing issues and lack of equipment. The DoH is requiring the grouping of residents based on three classifications: asymptomatic no exposure; asymptomatic with exposure at a facility with an outbreak; symptomatic tests negative, could have a respiratory illness, not COVID-19; symptomatic and tests positive; and positive transfers in or back from an acute care hospital.
Persichilli added that her department is also taking facilities’ ability to cohort employees into consideration to limit movement of staff between negative and positive residents.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat what’s going on with the nursing homes, but I do want to tell you that we are on it full-time, but it’s going to be very difficult,” Persichilli said at Friday’s briefing.