The federal agency, which acts as the main source of funding for New Jersey’s troubled veterans’ homes, began withholding payments at the Menlo Park facility this week after Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration failed to address major infection control problems, officials confirmed late Wednesday.
The move effectively prevented the nursing home from accepting new residents into the facility, which families across New Jersey depend on to care for their ailing loved ones, many of whom served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Major Ameila Thatcher, a State Department spokeswoman for military and veterans affairs, confirmed that enrollments were “temporarily suspended.”
In a statement to NorthJersey.com, a spokesman for the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said issues that “significantly affected the safety of residents” documented in a damning inspection report over the summer are still not to residents’ satisfaction authorities have been remedied.
“The denial of payment for all new admissions began on [Tuesday] as persistent quality concerns have not been addressed,” said Bruce Alexander, CMS communications director.
Thatcher said on Wednesday that a plan to fix the problems had been sent to the Department of Health but did not elaborate.
The end of payments for new admissions came the same day Murphy announced that a “mission-critical team” had been dispatched to the Menlo Park facility, despite the problems having been known for months since an unusually lengthy inspection over the summer.
During an eight-day on-site visit in August and September at the 328-bed facility, inspectors found that caretakers, staff and contractors had placed their residents in “imminent danger” of both a life-threatening illness and possible abuse as soon as they left the home had one of the highest COVID death tolls in the nation.
The inspection released this month says the administration has failed to implement infection control practices — including testing, contact tracing and staff training — to prevent the spread of COVID.
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The home had a COVID outbreak that began last November and lasted for months. During that time, the Menlo Park home had 17 deaths of residents from COVID, while 76 residents and 225 staff members were infected, according to the state’s current COVID outbreak list.
The report also details some troubling interactions between residents, staff and contractors, including a nurse who didn’t know how to remove a urinary catheter from a resident who later required treatment at a hospital for an infection.
Menlo Park and its sister facility in Paramus gained national attention two years ago when more than 200 residents died at the height of the pandemic. Murphy and several lawmakers called for reforms, including passing new legislation to support nursing home residents, but those efforts seemed to have achieved little in Menlo Park.
The Murphy administration has already pledged $69 million to settle 190 claims from the victims’ families. Several employees who say they were unnecessarily put at risk during the height of the pandemic have filed lawsuits against the administration.
The state chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars has slammed Murphy over the latest revelations that the government “continues to look after our veterans as second-class citizens.”
Murphy said in a statement Tuesday that despite the reforms of two years ago, “it is clear our work is not done yet.”
Targeting new arrivals is just CMS’ first step if Menlo Park continues to struggle. The agency said it will shut down all federal funds on March 8, effectively shutting down the home where generations of military officials and their spouses spent the final days of their lives.
Two members of the three-strong Mission Critical Team were on site Tuesday, and a third is due to arrive next week. This includes an administrator, a nurse and an infection prevention specialist. They are to stay at the Menlo Park Home for at least a month.
Inspectors have already started to revisit the house to see if any deficiencies have been rectified. “This review and evaluation started recently and is still ongoing,” Alexander said. “Additional information from this effort is not yet publicly available.”