N.J. governor “outraged” that bodies were “allowed to pile up” at nursing home

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Thursday he is “outraged” that bodies “were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue” at a nursing home in the state. The governor said the facility, the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, in Andover, New Jersey, is now under investigation by the state’s attorney general.

“New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion, and dignity. We can and must do better,” he said. The Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center is the largest long-term care facility in the state, which has the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation.

New Jersey police on Monday discovered 17 bodies inside the overwhelmed nursing home’s morgue, which was only equipped to handle four bodies. The New York Times reported that, according to Andover Township Police Chief Eric Danielson, the bodies were among 68 recent deaths linked to the facility, and 26 of the people who died had tested positive for the coronavirus.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli cited different numbers at a press conference Thursday. According to Persichilli, the nursing home, which is made up of two distinct buildings, Andover One and Andover Two, has had only 19 recent deaths attributed to COVID-19. 

Since April 3, Andover One has reported five deaths due to the virus, she said; while Andover Two has reported 14 COVID deaths since March 30. According to the commissioner, 103 residents at the facility are currently positive for COVID-19, at least two have been hospitalized, and 52 Andover staff members have shown “flu-like symptoms.”

According to Persichilli, the state’s health department was notified on April 11 that 28 bodies were being stored at Andover, and it was “in need of body bags for deceased residents.” She said the department “immediately notified” local health officials, and a local health officer visited the facility at 2 a.m. the very next day. The officer, however, found that Andover only had five bodies on site. 

“They surveyed the facility and reported back that there was appropriate staffing and PPE at that time,” Persichilli said. “Additionally they reported that they observed five bodies on site, and the staff reported to them that three bodies had been released earlier in the day.” 

“At that point, we required the facility to report daily to the local health department,” she said. “We also sent them additional PPE and the names of individuals that they could call up if they needed additional staffing. The facility was required to institute their back-up plan for storage of the deceased at the local hospital.”

Days later, the health department was once again notified about an excess of bodies being stored at the facility, according to Persichilli. 

“On the 14th, we received another complaint that more bodies were being stored,” she said. “At 3 p.m. on the 14th, the local health department surveyed the facility and reported that they were short on staffing, and we additionally called up the owner of the facility and notified him of our concerns, and required him to report back to us.” Persichilli said she was personally assured by Andover’s owner on Thursday that staffing at the facility is now above normal. 

The health department has now sent “survey staff out to monitor the activities of this facility on a regular basis,” she said. 

“We’re not pleased with what is going on at the Andover facility.”

Medical workers arrive at the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center on April 16, 2020, in Andover, New Jersey.  Getty

There are 379 long term care and assisted living facilities in New Jersey now reporting at least one COVID-19 case, according to Persichilli. The governor said he’s asked the attorney general to look into Andover, and review “all long-term care facilities that have experienced a disproportionate number of deaths during the COVID outbreak.”

“I know he will take any and all appropriate action,” Murphy said. “Our full focus must remain on mitigating the spread of the virus and minimizing the impact to all who remain — in this case at the Andover facility, as well as all of our other long-term-care facilities.” He said the department of health has also deployed a team “to assist the center, its staff and its residents.”

“A story like this shakes you to the bones, we don’t bring in the attorney general by happenstance,” Murphy said. 

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