Resident dies from COVID at NJ veterans home for first time in months; death toll at 206
A resident died from COVID-19 at a state veterans home for the first time in months, bringing the death toll at the three facilities to 206, among the highest at nursing homes nationwide, officials confirmed Monday.
No information was given about the resident or the circumstances surrounding the death other than he or she was a resident of the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland.
That brings the COVID-19 death toll at Vineland to 12, by far the lowest among the facilities overseen by Gov. Phil Murphy's administration. This includes the Menlo Park home, with 103 resident deaths, and the Paramus home, with 89. Both homes also had a nurse's aide who died.
The high death toll, mismanagement and questionable policies have been the subject of two law enforcement investigations — one by the state attorney general and another by the U.S. Justice Department. Families have been interviewed, subpoenas have been issued and a state grand jury has been impaneled, but so far no action has been taken.
More than a year after their loved ones began dying in record numbers, families of veterans home victims have received little or no information from Murphy's administration about why the virus spread so rapidly. Dozens are suing the administration.
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Reports by NorthJersey.com, The Record and the USA TODAY Network found that lax infection control, a no-mask edict at the homes and letting known infected residents interact with non-infected residents helped allow COVID-19 to run rampant through the facilities.
Murphy eventually ousted the CEOs of the Paramus and Menlo Park homes along with their boss and the commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
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The virus did not spread nearly as rapidly at Vineland as it did at Paramus and Menlo Park. Many of Vineland's victims died after the initial surge in the spring of 2020.
About 63% of the staff is fully vaccinated at the Vineland home, well below the statewide average of 80% for long-term care facility staff, state data shows. Almost 98% of residents are fully vaccinated at Vineland - higher than the statewide average of 92%. The vaccination status of the deceased was not released.
Murphy announced the latest death at his regular COVID briefing on Monday along with eight other confirmed virus fatalities.
Murphy recited the confirmed death toll at each home — Paramus: 81, Menlo Park: 64, and Vineland: 12 — as he has done many times at his briefings. But Murphy has not yet publicly mentioned the 47 probable COVID-19 deaths at the homes that the state Health Department found. That information was made public by The Record and NorthJersey.com more than one year ago.
At the Vineland home, nine residents and 25 staff members have tested positive within the past month, according to state data. The home has had 55 residents and 160 staff who tested positive.
Only 62% of the staff at Vineland are vaccinated, well below the statewide average of 80% for long-term care facility staff. More than 97% of Vineland residents are vaccinated, better than the statewide average of 92% in long-term care facilities.
Staff Writer Lindy Washburn contributed to this article.
Scott Fallon has covered the COVID-19 pandemic since its onset in March 2020. To get unlimited access to the latest news about the pandemic's impact on New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.