TRENTON, NJ — A new portal for the public to report any evidence of misconduct at long term care facilities or nursing homes was announced at the daily COVID-19 briefing by Governor Phil Murphy and his executive leadership team. The Governor said the new portal was established as a complement to an ongoing investigation by Office of the Attorney General into the responsive actions taken at acute care facilities around the state, specifically at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Sussex County, which have been disproportionately hard hit by the virus.
Murphy said the online site, at www.covid19.nj.gov/ltc, is so that “residents, employees and families of those living in long term care facilities can submit complaints for further review ... We know the long-term care issue has been among our biggest challenges, if not the biggest. The data spells out why we need to under take these efforts.”
Murphy said the number of facilities reporting positive COVID-19 test results continues to increase and the number of individual cases in those facilities is increasing as well. About half of all the COIVD-19 deaths in the state have been individuals within the long term care facility system, he added.
“We have seen some of the industry be slow to respond and adapt to the emergent threat of COVID-19. We intend to hold folks accountable as we should and as you would want us to,” Murphy continued. “We know that there are many good actors who will do all they can to protect their residents and staff unfortunately we know that there are bad actors in this industry.”
Solutions to the problems that are identified by New Jersey's investigation could become a national model for mitigation, protection and resiliency for governmental and institutional responses to epidemics like COVID-19 or to any other future pandemic, the Governor added.
The investigation referenced by Murphy was launched last month by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who was on hand at today's briefing. Grewal explained that he decided to go forward based on the high number of deaths at long term care facilities, by reports “of bodies being piled up at makeshift morgues,” and by family members “left in the dark” without any way to receive information about the status of their loved ones.
“I understand that for many of these facilities this was the equivalent of a 500-year flood. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't examine how folks responded when the flood waters started rising,” Grewal added, noting that the new reporting portal will be valuable tool to the state as it advances its investigation.
Gov. Murphy also reiterated his strident plea to Congress to provide direct aid to states to stave off economic disaster, while also acknowledging that the Trump Administration, through Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, had provided new guidance that gives New Jersey greater flexibility to spend $2.4 billion from previously authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“While this new guidance doesn't get us all the way to where we want to be I am grateful that we have greater room to meet some of our immediate needs. We will put this money to good use for our first responders and our small businesses,” he said.
Murphy said the State would also be in position to provide previously budgeted funding for schools and educators. The new federal flexibility will allow New Jersey to make its next formula aid payment to schools of $467 million.
“This is a well-deserved recognition that education and educators are a critical part of our COVID-19 response. This guidance is a win for the 1.4 million students and their families and a win for property taxpayers across the state,” Murphy added.
As important as it is for New Jersey to quickly begin its economic recovery, the governor stressed the need for more fiscal relief but that in the end it will be public health “data determines dates.” Last week, state and county parks and golf courses re-opened to the public under strict conditions including enforced social distancing. Murphy still could not provide any other dates when other non-essential businesses and enterprises could re-open.
In his daily statistical review, the governor continued to point to positive trends, including the diminishing rates of hospitalizations due to the virus and that a majority of the state's 21 counties now report that the rate the virus is doubling is 30 days or longer.
For the period ending at 10 p.m. on Monday, May 4, Murphy reported 2,494 new positive test results bringing the State's total to 130,539. Hospitalization cases stood at 5,328, which the governor said was a significant decrease from a few weeks ago.
The number of hospitalizations resulting stays in the ICU or CCU dropped to 1,534, as did the number of those patients requiring a ventilator (1,169). Both statistics show one full week of declining numbers, Murphy noted.
The governor reported 334 new deaths, bringing the state's overall total to 8,244.