Menlo Park veterans home appears to have ignored infection control procedures, KIYC investigation finds

A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds infection control procedures appear to have been ignored at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, contributing to one of New Jersey's worst COVID-19 outbreaks.
Fifty veterans at the facility have died of the virus and 198 have tested positive as of May 4, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. That's the second highest number of positive test results of any New Jersey long-term care facility.
But the facility did not even begin to house infected and non-infected residents separately until just last week, according to a memo written by Chief Medical Officer, Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles. The memo, addressed to residents' families and dated April 24, says residents will soon be divided "into units of those that are well, symptomatic and positive for the accordance with CDC guidelines." It says family members will be notified once new room assignments are made.
One worker tells Kane In Your Corner she was shocked the facility took so long to implement a basic policy.
"They were putting veterans in rooms where one person was positive for COVID and one person was not. There was really no infection control,” the worker said.
The worker asked not to be identified because management instructed workers not to speak to the media.
Kane In Your Corner also obtained video of other concerns at the Menlo Park veterans home, including ants crawling on residents' food, workers apparently sleeping on duty, and, at a time when hand-washing is critical to disease prevention, empty soap dispensers.
Veterans' relatives also complain the facility frequently kept them in the dark, especially after Gov. Phil Murphy ordered nursing homes closed to visitors in March.
Julie Diaz says when her mother, Isabella Kovacs, became infected with COVID-19, "they would not put me on the phone with her, they would not call me back with a status. This went on for three days."
Regina Discenza says she didn't even find out her father, Charlie Costantino, had COVID-19 until two days later.
"There’s no question my father was in some kind of respiratory distress," she says. "If I could have gone there, I would have known and demanded that he had gone to the hospital."
Kovacs and Costantino were both eventually taken to the hospital, where they died. Diaz says she's glad the hospital staff at least gave her a chance to say goodbye.
"I told her how she was the best mother I ever could have had," she said. "And that she was going to go to heaven and was going to see her mom and dad."
Kryn Westhoven, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, says the facility recently completed testing all of its residents. He says “Each of our homes is compliant with all the latest guidance and instructions from CDC, DOH and OEM in order to combat the spread of the virus, while continuing to provide the best possible care for the veterans in our homes.”