TRENTON — A state lawmaker is calling for answers after an independent investigation into the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic counted more deaths than the state previously reported.

A report released this month by a firm hired by the state at a cost of $9 million faulted the state and the nation for its lack of preparedness for a pandemic.

The report noted that “more than 16,000 residents and many staff members” at long-term care facilities died from the virus.

But that number is far higher than the 9,221 deaths that the state Department of Health has said died in nursing homes.

“The Montgomery McCracken review is creating more questions than it is answers to Gov. Murphy’s COVID response and we do not know who to believe,” state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris said this week.

“We are seeing enormous discrepancies between what the NJ DOH is telling us and what the Montgomery McCracken review is telling us.”

Pennacchio was critical of the Murphy administration’s response to the pandemic almost from the start.

In addition to questioning Murphy’s prolonged lockdown orders and vaccine and masking mandates, Pennacchio and other Republicans began raising alarms about nursing home deaths early during the crisis.

“The people of New Jersey deserve to have the correct information from this devastating pandemic,” Pennacchio said this week. “The DOH must immediately explain this discrepancy and ensure the accurate numbers are reported so we can understand exactly what went wrong and how we can better prepare for future crises.”

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Residents from St. Joseph's Senior Home in Woodbridge are helped on to buses
Residents from St. Joseph's Senior Home in Woodbridge are helped on to buses (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Murphy administration reacts to nursing home deaths

State health officials did not respond to a New Jersey 101.5 request for comment or reaction to the discrepancy.

The Montgomery McCracken report noted that New Jersey eventually got a handle on COVID-19 and became one of the states with the lowest death rates. But not before the virus had ravished long-term care facilities.

One of the most notorious headlines from the pandemic in 2020 was when 17 bodies were found packed into a makeshift morgue at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center.

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli (Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office)
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli (Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office)

The Murphy administration has stood by its actions when it comes to nursing homes. In April 2021, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli defended herself to the Legislature, insisting that the administration never forced nursing homes to take back sick residents unless they could separate them from other residents.

“We were very clear that the facilities could only re-admit residents if they could separate them from other residents, maintain proper infection control and had sufficient PPE and staffing. But, most importantly, they needed to tell us if they could not meet these requirements,” Persichilli said at the time.

That year, Gov. Murphy blamed nursing homes for the deaths, saying they failed to follow procedures to keep residents and staff safe.

Two years into the pandemic, the state deployed the National Guard to assist nursing homes.

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NJ towns with the highest STD rates in 2022

These towns had the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections per every 1,000 residents. The data was compiled by the state Department of Health for the year 2022, the most recent year for which statistics were available in February 2022. For some diseases, a zero appears because the state suppressed the data because it failed to meet a particular standard.

Gallery Credit: New Jersey 101.5

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