Gov. Murphy shakes up leadership for Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs, 2 vets homes after COVID-19 outbreaks
Gov. Phil Murphy is shaking up the leadership of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs as a result of the deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at state-run veterans homes. One of those homes, in Edison, was the subject of numerous Kane In Your Corner investigations.
Major General Jemal J. Beale, the agency's commissioner, will be replaced on an interim basis by a deputy, Col. Dr. Lisa J. Hou.
“It is an honor to be called upon to lead one of the greatest battles our department has ever faced,” Hou said in a statement.
Interim CEOs will be named at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Homes at Paramus and Menlo Park. Both facilities were decimated by COVID-19 outbreaks. More than 100 people died at the Menlo Park facility.
A series of Kane In Your Corner investigations found infection control procedures appear to have been ignored at the Menlo Park home, contributing to the severity of the outbreak there. The facility did not even begin to house infected and non-infected residents separately until the end of April, internal memos showed. Workers at the facility also said rooms were not properly cleaned after infected patients moved out, and that for weeks into the pandemic, management ordered staff not to wear masks around the patients for fear of upsetting them.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Department of Health also reclassified 39 fatalities at the Menlo Park home as "probable COVID-19 deaths", raising the death toll there to 101. That's the most at any long-term care facility in New Jersey, and the most at any state-run veterans home in the country.
Kane in Your Corner first raised the possibility that deaths at the Menlo Park home were undercounted in May, finding that some death certificates, signed by doctors affiliated with the facility, inaccurately listed the cause of death for COVID-19-infected patients simply as “pneumonia”, without mentioning the virus as a contributing factor.
Paul da Costa, an attorney who represents the families of several residents and staff members who died at the Menlo Park and Paramus homes, says he and his clients have mixed emotions about the shakeup.
“There’s definitely the feeling of too ‘too little, too late,’” da Costa says, “and we wish that these individuals had never been at the helm. But at the same time, we’re grateful that Gov. Murphy has taken the first step toward achieving accountability.”