Justice Department launches investigation into COVID deaths at New Jersey veterans homes
The United States Justice Department has launched an investigation into the New Jersey state-run veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, at which nearly 200 residents died of COVID-19.
The severity of the Menlo Park outbreak, only recently confirmed by the state, was first exposed in May in a series of Kane In Your Corner investigations. Staff members said rooms were inadequately cleaned, internal documents showed infected and healthy residents were housed together for weeks, and COVID deaths were significantly undercounted because some death certificates, signed by doctors affiliated with the facility, make no mention of the virus.
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In a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, the federal Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney for New Jersey said, “Our investigation will focus on whether the Veterans Homes engage in a pattern or practice of violating the rights of veteran residents… by failing to provide to adequate medical care.”
“We hope that they are thorough investigations and that findings are transparently communicated to the public,” says attorney Paul da Costa, who represents the families of several residents and staff members who died. “Without, frankly, your excellent reporting, I don't know that we would have had half the information we have today.”
After insisting for months that 62 residents died of COVID-19 at the Menlo Park facility, the New Jersey Department of Health this month raised the number to 101. The state also fired the CEOs of both the Menlo Park and Paramus veterans homes and announced new leadership at the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees them.
A spokesman for the governor insists the federal investigation is politically motivated. In a written statement, he says: “The fact that this request from the Department of Justice was announced a week before Election Day speaks volumes about the nature of the review. From the beginning of the pandemic, the State of New Jersey has relied on CDC guidance from the federal government to protect the residents of our veterans homes.”
In addition to the Department of Justice investigation, both homes are also currently under investigation by the New Jersey attorney general.