Relatives, nurses, veterans groups demand answers for COVID-19 outbreak at Menlo Park facility
Relatives, nurses and veterans organizations are demanding that someone be held accountable for outbreaks of COVID-19 at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park, where at least 62 residents died of the virus. The facility was the subject of several Kane In Your Corner investigations, which found that basic infection control procedures were ignored.
Tanya Montuore says she is still haunted by the last voicemail she received from her father, Howard Conyack, a few days before he died of COVID-19 in April.
"I love you honey," Conyack can be heard saying, his voice quivering. "If anything happens to me, I miss you so much." Conyack ends the message by saying "I'll talk to you, hopefully, later."
"I entrusted them to take care of my dad during this time, and there's no closure," Tanya Montuore says.
Her husband, Robert, says "An average high school student would have known to wear a mask and to wash their hands. I mean this is basic medical common sense. And they didn’t use it."
In a series of investigations, Kane In Your Corner found sick and healthy patients were routinely housed together at the Menlo facility until late April, a clear violation of state and federal health guidance. Staff members also said they were instructed not to wear masks to avoid upsetting patients and said that rooms were often not thoroughly cleaned after a COVID-infected patient moved out.
"I don't know how you got your stories, but your stories were spot on," says Shirley Suddoth-Lewis, who worked as a nurse at the facility for more than 30 years before retiring last month. Suddoth-Lewis says, "There was a shadow over this facility. We lost so many of our friends and family."
Despite the problems, the Murphy administration has steadfastly defended the management of the Menlo facility. "The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs fully supports the Chief Executive Officers at our three Veterans Memorial Homes,” NJDMAVA spokesperson Kryn Westhoven said.
But those comments, notably, were not echoed by Gov. Phil Murphy himself. "There will be a full accounting, and I don't blame folks for being upset for one second," Murphy said.