Questions Why It Has Taken Five Months
Senator Joe Pennacchio said the COVID-19 victims who died in New Jersey nursing homes and their families deserve more accountability than this morning’s joint meeting of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.
Senator Pennacchio said the testimony during a joint legislative meeting on nursing homes presented a solid case for creating a Senate Select Committee to investigate the state’s pandemic preparedness. (©iStock)
“I welcome and appreciate the efforts of my colleagues in the Legislature who listened to disturbing testimony in an effort to improve conditions in nursing homes, but we must go much further to address the deaths of 7,000 vulnerable senior citizens who suffered alone in isolation without contact with family or friends,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “Those forgotten souls left behind a long trail of questions that demand answers so we can prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
Three months ago, Pennacchio launched a crusade calling for a Senate select committee investigation of New Jersey’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic within nursing homes. At that time, the virus had claimed 4,800 residents. The number has continued climbing.
Since then, Pennacchio and his Senate Republican colleagues have continually appealed in a series of letters to form the special committee. The Senate Republican caucus procedurally attempted to make it the “bill of the day” on two occasions only to have it rejected by the majority.
“After listening to the testimony today, it is clear there is so much more we need to know about what was happening inside nursing homes, and the discussions behind the scenes of state leadership,” said Pennacchio. “There was some poignant testimony about conditions in the homes, but the source of the misery in these facilities was state public policy. Without hearing from anyone from the health department or the Administration, the hearing’s good intentions fall short.
“To fully understand what went wrong and how we can prevent it from happening again, we must have a thorough investigation of current and past public policy. The need for a Senate Select Committee with subpoena power was clear in May, and it’s necessary now more than ever as the pandemic continues and elderly nursing home residents remain at risk,” the Senator continued. “Without subpoena power, we can’t hope to get to the full truth.”
Pennacchio said to be effective, the select committee would compel testimony from officials from the Governor’s office and Department of Health, among others, and seek answers for why one of every 10 residents on long-term care facilities died, and what was behind the decision to force coronavirus-infected patients into nursing homes with the state’s most susceptible residents?
“It has been five months since the virus outbreak and the first nursing home deaths, and we are just now hearing the first testimony on the subject,” said Pennacchio. “Why have we waited five long months? We can’t allow the failures that led to the loss of thousands of lives to be brushed under the rug without a robust, thorough investigation. It is time to empanel a Senate Select Committee to investigate.”