Nursing homes in New Jersey continue to struggle with COVID-19 issues

Bergen County is New Jersey’s hardest-hit county when it comes to cases of COVID-19. The county has almost 800 deaths from the virus – more than half of those deaths are said to be in long-term care facilities.

News 12 Staff

Apr 21, 2020, 3:19 AM

Updated 1,455 days ago

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Bergen County is New Jersey’s hardest-hit county when it comes to cases of COVID-19.
The county has almost 800 deaths from the virus – more than half of those deaths are said to be in long-term care facilities.
When the adenovirus hit a New Jersey health care facility in 2018, killing children with weakened immune systems, New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi proposed a strong bill to hold facilities accountable. But that bill was stripped of almost all its power before it became a law.
“We have a majority of our deaths coming from people who are essentially being held captive,” Schepisi says. “Their family members cannot go in. They’re amongst our most vulnerable patients.”
Schepisi says that the situation has been a disaster. Her proposal a few years ago was to push nursing homes to be more transparent and to have a clear plan in case of an outbreak or face a financial penalty. But the part about the financial penalty never made it into the final law.
“There are no enforcement capabilities that the commissioner in the Department of Health are given,” the assemblywoman says.
Atrium in Park Ridge is reporting 22 COVID-19 deaths – among the highest in the state. But some say that it is an incomplete story.
“They don’t even have an honest number of how many people are dying,” says Cathy Collins Mullen, whose mother was a resident at Atrium before dying from the virus.
Mullen’s mother died this month. She says that they had a video call on a Saturday and her mother died by that Monday. Clair Collins was 87-years-old. She labeled a “probable COVID-19” case. The family pushed for testing, but it was denied.
“At the Atrium itself, where staff members are telling family members, ‘We don’t have enough tests,” Mullen says.
Mullen says that family members are dropping off PPE for the staff.
An email from the facility stated that 57 staff members are symptomatic for the virus, 31 are waiting for test results and 25 have tested positive for COVID-19.
“They’re chasing this around the building and it’s going through like a freight train,” says Myra Bruno.
Bruno’s mother, who has dementia, tested positive for the virus and is recovering at Atrium. Bruno says that communication has been inconsistent.
As a positive case, she thought her mother would be moved to another facility in southern New Jersey. The plan was changed to move her to a facility in Livingston. But her doctor intervened.
“And my mom would really decline if she was moved,” Bruno says. “I was so grateful...I was able to stop the transfer.”
Atrium is one of 27 facilities in six states run by Spring Hills Senior Communities. CEO Alex Markowits was not able to say how many patients have been transferred or how many tests have been given at Atrium.
Markowits says that they are being as open as possible and doing everything they can in this rapidly-changing environment.


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