Months after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the Garden State were ravaged by the virus. More than 7,000 elderly residents and their caretakers have died.

Last May, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Republican Senate Leader Tom Kean, R-Union, announced plans for a legislative investigation of the Murphy administration’s handling of the pandemic but that effort has not moved forward.

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Now, Senate Republicans have launched an online petition that aims to enlist the public’s support, calling for the creation of an investigative committee with subpoena power to look into what they describe as the "massive loss of life” over the past six months.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R- Morris, said this is necessary because “this administration has not been forthcoming. They haven’t given us the data or the reasoning or the science behind a lot of the issues that they’ve done, especially when it comes to nursing homes.”

Pennacchio introduced a resolution on May 11 to create the "Senate Select Committee on the Executive Branch's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic" but a vote has never been taken.

He noted more than half of the COVID-19 deaths in New Jersey have been at nursing homes, veteran’s homes and long-term care facilities.

Gov. Phil Murphy and state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli have repeatedly said that patients with coronavirus were only returned to nursing homes when the facilities were able to separate them from other residents. But Pennacchio contends the governor and the Health Department forced nursing homes to take COVID-19 patients and improperly delayed inspectors from entering nursing home facilities until late April to review conditions.

He said too many questions remain unanswered and they are asking “for the administration to explain to us exactly what they did and why they did it, because 7,000 souls are screaming for answers and we owe it not only to their memories, but we owe it to their loved ones.”

He said the committee will be bipartisan: Democrats as well as Republicans are concerned about what happened.

Pennacchio said we know there are global issues that affect all nursing homes “but if you look at a state like Florida that has those same global issues, you’ll see that in Florida they wound up having 1/7 the amount of deaths from COVID in nursing homes than they did in New Jersey.”

He said the difference was in Florida “they made sure they were properly staffed. They realized you don’t interject a pathogen, a virulent virus into a nursing home where the people are most vulnerable and they had enough PPE.”

New Jersey, however, was one of the first states to get hit with the pandemic. Florida was one of the states that saw hospitalizations and infections peak later.

 

The online petition can be signed here.

A request made to Sweeney for comment was not answered Tuesday.

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