Coronavirus News: National Guard headed to NJ nursing homes, Andover facility fined

ANDOVER, New Jersey -- New Jersey is sending 120 members of the National Guard this weekend to nursing homes hit hard by the coronavirus to help staff members, Gov. Phil Murphy said, though their exact role remains unclear.

The troops will first go to the state's biggest home, in Andover, the Democratic governor said. The home became so overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths at one point that it began using what Murphy called a "makeshift morgue."

Nursing homes need "some relief from the bullpen," Murphy said.

The development came the same day federal health authorities fined the facility $220,000.

A report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded the facility had failed to comply with federal requirements by placing residents in its care at risk for serious injury. The report found numerous instances of insufficient protection for staff and failures to document residents' symptoms. It recounted the case of one resident who was hospitalized with COVID-19-like respiratory symptoms after the nursing home failed to order any tests or document the resident's temperature for the previous five shifts.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, whose district includes the facility, said in an email he was "disgusted and heartbroken for the residents, staff, and families about the conditions" in Andover, which includes two facilities across the street from each other.

The facility is required to submit a plan of corrective action within 10 days.

Mutty Scheinbaum, who owns and operates both Andover facilities, said in a statement that both facilities have implemented protocols to combat the spread of the virus.

Regarding CMS Report: "Andover Subacute I and Andover Subacute II are separately licensed long-term care facilities with separate patient populations, but both have implemented similar protocols to combat the spread of COVID-19. Federal regulators with CMS have been conducting a nationwide review of long-term care facilities to review their infection control protocols. The review of Andover Subacute I concluded that the facility was in compliance with applicable guidelines. CMS noted areas of improvement for Andover Subacute II, but determined that the facility's remediation plan was acceptable as fatalities continue to drop at the facility. We look forward to continuing our cooperative relationship with CMS and the New Jersey Department of Health as we, and nursing home patients and staff across the country, continue to battle this deadly virus."

Regarding New Jersey National Guard at Andover:

"Andover Subacute II welcomes the assistance from the New Jersey National Guard, as the state makes more resources available to help deal with the pandemic. The Guard will help provide non-medical support in long term care facilities, which will free up medical staff to spend more time on patient care. At the height of the pandemic last month, Andover experienced a tragic surge of patients becoming ill or passing. We took every possible step to handle this surge internally while simultaneously making dozens of outreaches to local, state, and federal agencies for help. Andover is extremely grateful to those entities that offered what assistance they could, but the overall system was inundated, and many entities were simply not in a position to help. Andover has made steady progress over the past several weeks. The number of virus-related deaths at the facility has dropped precipitously and is now down by approximately 90 percent as compared to the height of the pandemic. Dozens of staff who were in quarantine have been able to return to work and the workforce is at full strength with a team of new consultants and other professionals on board to help us through this crisis. Those professionals include an administrative consultant, a registered nurse consultant, and an infection control practitioner, as well as a COVID-19 consultant overseeing all Department of Health reporting. PPE inventory is also being restored. We thank our staff on the front lines of this crisis. We are grateful for their bravery and commitment to our patients. We remain focused on the health and safety of our residents and staff, as well as continuing to provide the best possible care in these unprecedented times."

Murphy reported an additional 254 deaths in the state, bringing the total to 8,801, with about 134,000 reported cases.

All of New Jersey's roughly 400 nursing homes have at least one case of the virus, and such facilities have had roughly half of the total deaths from the virus, according to the state Health Department.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said 22 members of the Guard will go to the Andover home Friday. The Guard will begin its work there and then move to other homes, Murphy said.

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