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A nursing home SWAT team arrives at a New Jersey veterans’ home plagued by security breaches

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration on Tuesday dispatched a team of long-term care workers to the Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park to help the state nursing home fix glaring issues of abuse and safety violations that were uncovered during a recent inspection and asked local residents in ” imminent danger”.

A nurse adviser and an administrator with experience operating long-term care facilities, whom state health commissioner Judith Persichilli described as a “mission-critical” team, arrived on the Edison campus, along with a third member, an infection control prevention expert, who is expected next week.

The action comes about a week after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told the Murphy administration it can withhold funding for new admissions unless there are serious deficiencies in pandemic infection control and the Care of residents are fixed.

CMS said on Tuesday the matter is still under review.

“The Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home does not currently meet any essential requirements and CMS is currently reviewing the latest survey results,” said a CMS spokesperson.

Fines and other penalties are also pending, federal authorities warned.

Brig. Gen. Lisa J. Hou, New Jersey’s adjutant general and commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said she asked for assistance.

“I’ve requested the team as another tool in the toolbox to continually improve the quality of care we provide to our residents, evaluate our human resources processes, and renew our commitment to the veterans in our care,” Hou said.

State health assessors found the problems during an August and September inspection of the 312 nursing home, which cares for military veterans and their spouses. The conditions put some of its residents in “imminent danger,” according to the inspection report, after they were charged with improper care and abuse.

In one incident, a nurse who appeared unaware of how to remove a Foley catheter — a skill taught in nursing school — simply cut it off with scissors. The resident had to be taken to the emergency room to remove the remainder of the tube that had been inserted into the bladder to drain urine and then taken to a hospital to be treated for a urinary tract infection.

When a certified nursing assistant with experience in this procedure was asked why she didn’t speak up while she watched the nurse cut the catheter, she reportedly replied, “She’s a nurse. She should know,” the inspectors said.

The RN was subsequently suspended and then terminated.

Another resident who repeatedly rang a call bell to get his medication was allegedly confronted by an angry nurse and aide in what the report described as an emotionally and physically abusive episode.

And the facility has reportedly failed to conduct contact tracing in a bid to contain a massive COVID-19 outbreak that began last Thanksgiving, inspectors accused. Menlo Park was cited for not “ensuring that exposed personnel were tested prior to working at the facility” and for failing to ensure federal, state and infection control guidelines were being followed.

“The department has sent this team to work with leaders and staff to improve and maintain the quality of care at the Veterans Home,” Persichilli said in a statement late Tuesday. “The team has already started evaluating and working with local staff to make the necessary improvements. The care and safety of our residents who call Menlo Park home remain our priority.”

Menlo Park and a second Veterans Home in Paramus reported some of the highest COVID-related death tolls in the country as the pandemic swept through facilities. The third state-operated facility is in Vineland.

Overall, COVID claimed the lives of more than 200 residents and staff at all three facilities, according to the state, although an attorney representing dozens of families who have sued the state says the death toll could actually be more than 240 .

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of 9,813 residents and long-term care workers, according to the state Health Department’s COVID data dashboard.

State Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Rep. Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, promoted the creation of “Mission Critical Long-Term Care Teams” for legislation in June, although Persichilli had already begun assembling the teams. They will act as advisors and collaborators to address financial and operational issues at the facility, “with an emphasis on the health and safety of residents,” according to the bill (S2894). Nursing homes can request assistance or the state can send the team out at its discretion, the bill said.

Vitale and a group of central Jersey lawmakers, who say they met to discuss the ongoing problems at Menlo Park, said in a statement the team’s involvement was necessary.

“We welcome the deployment of a special Mission Critical Team to the Menlo Park Veterans Home to help address issues that have impacted the health and safety of veterans. It underscores the need for institutional reforms to improve the quality of care at Menlo Park and the other government-run veterans’ homes,” read the statement by Sens. Vitale, Joseph Cryan, D-Union, Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth , Joe Lagana, D-Bergen, and Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex.

“We must work to develop a thoughtful and thorough plan that will ensure the best possible care and treatment for residents, their families and carers. We believe that comprehensive, lasting changes are needed to ensure our veterans receive the best possible care, regardless of the cost,” they said.

Earlier in the day, the entire Republican contingent of the State Senate sent a letter to Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, to hold public hearings “to investigate ongoing failures at state veterans’ homes.”

“Recent reports have highlighted how new outbreaks have resulted in additional deaths that could have been prevented,” the 16 Republican letter said. “Additionally, our Veterans Homes are now at risk of losing government Medicare and Medicaid funding critical to their operations. The simple fact is that lawmakers have done next to nothing to increase protections for veterans’ homes, and it hasn’t worked.”

The State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs operates three veterans’ homes in Edison, Paramus, and Vineland.

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Ted Sherman can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL.

Susan K Livio can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.

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