Officials reclassify 39 deaths at Menlo veterans home, bringing COVID-19 death toll to 101
The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has said for months that 62 residents died in an outbreak of COVID-19 at the New Jersey Memorial Veterans Home at Menlo Park. But now, state health officials are confirming something workers at the facility told Kane In Your Corner in April: the actual death toll is much higher.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services says it has reclassified 39 fatalities at the facility as probable COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll 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.
It also echoes what workers, who asked for anonymity, told Kane In Your Corner nearly six months ago, including one who said, "There's over 100 veterans that passed in one month."
Attorney Paul da Costa, who represents the families of some residents and workers who died at the veteran's home during the pandemic, says, "It's time for accountability", adding, "both the employees and the residents were needlessly endangered for reasons that no one can ever explain to me."
NJDOH Spokesperson Nancy Kearney says the department reclassifies fatalities as probable COVID-19 deaths if there is "a death certificate where COVID-19 (or an equivalent term) is mentioned in the causal pathway leading to death or is mentioned as a significant condition contributing to death" or if there is other evidence to suggest the death is COVID-19-related.
But Kane In Your Corner found some death certificates, signed by doctors affiliated with the Menlo Park home, that were so inaccurate, they might not even meet that broader standard.
Resident Richard Dilley died after he was taken from the Menlo facility to JFK Medical Center for treatment of COVID-19. But his death certificate only listed the medical center, not the veterans home, and it showed his cause of death only as pneumonia, without mentioning COVID-19 as a contributing factor.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office began investigating COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities in May, and the Menlo Park facility has been said to be part of that probe. However, Peter Aseltine, a spokesperson for the AG's office, says the office will have no comment on the investigation until it's over.