Lawmakers call for investigation, overhaul following DOJ report about NJ’s COVID response in veterans homes

State politicians from both political parties are reacting to a scathing report from the Department of Justice about New Jersey’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That report found that the state’s response to the virus at veterans homes led to the spread of the virus and violated residents’ constitutional rights.
After the harsh findings, some Republican lawmakers are insisting that former state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli’s name be removed from a state building that bears her name. Persichilli led the state’s COVID-19 response during the pandemic.
A worker described the situation at the Paramus veterans home in 2020 as “pure hell.” Another said the Menlo Park veterans home was a “battlefield,” according to the 40-page report.
Democratic state Sen. Joe Vitale is calling for an overhaul.
“It’s time that we create a new cabinet-level department or authority dedicated solely to veteran services with the highest quality tools and resources available. Clearly, these facilities need better staffing, training, and supervisory oversight to ensure this never happens again,” Vitale wrote in a statement.
Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio says he wants lawmakers armed with subpoena power to probe the deaths in the veterans homes and at nursing homes throughout the state during the pandemic.
“We should be taking care of our most vulnerable and most feeble population, those that can’t take care of themselves. And we failed them. The state failed to do it then,” says Pennachhio. “We were promised an investigation with subpoena power by both then-state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Tom Kean. It just never happened. Democrats circled their wagons to protect [Gov. Phil Murphy.]”
The governor issued a statement after the report came out. He called the findings “deeply disturbing.”
“…over the past three years, our Administration has instituted numerous processes and procedures to improve conditions, including most recently securing private management and assistance for these two homes. However, it is clear that we have significantly more work to do, and we are open to exploring all options to deliver for our veterans the high level of care they deserve and are entitled to under the law,” Murphy wrote.
“Until you get some answers as to why things were done, and why things were done well, and some things were done not well, we are still putting our people at risk,” Pennacchio says.
Murphy authorized late last year what he calls a post-mortem or an independent and comprehensive review of the state’s response to the pandemic. But it’s been known since the beginning that those findings won’t arrive until after Election Day.