US Sec'y of Veteran Affairs not satisfied with how NJ protected veterans during pandemic
Robert Wilkie, the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, tells Kane In Your Corner he's not satisfied how New Jersey protected residents in its state-run veterans homes from COVID-19.
The homes, where nearly 150 residents died, were the subject of a Kane In Your Corner investigation.
COVID-19 hit nursing homes and assisted living facilities across New Jersey hard, but the two state-run veterans homes in northern New Jersey were especially hard hit. Eighty-one veterans died at the home in Paramus, the most of any New Jersey long-term care facility. The New Jersey Memorial Veterans Home at Menlo Park had 62 COVID-19 deaths.
Wilkie says "On March 17, we sent out very specific guidance to all of the state veterans homes, in terms of care for the sickest patients, things like isolation and infection control."
But that guidance wasn't followed. Memos obtained by Kane In Your Corner found the Menlo Park facility didn't even begin to start separating sick and healthy patients until the end of April, and workers said basic disease-control procedures were not being followed. Several workers said in some cases, rooms that were supposed to be sterilized simply had the floors mopped instead.
The VA had deaths at its own facilities. More than 1,500 veterans died of COVID-19 at federally-run VA hospitals and nursing homes, including 105 in New Jersey, although Wilkie insists that was actually below projections.
"Thank goodness the earliest projections were, we were looking at hundreds of thousands of veterans affected and tens of thousands who would have to be in our hospitals," he says.
Wilkie does credit the Murphy Administration for being open to having the VA supply nurses and other support to state-run homes, which he says ultimately help bring the COVID outbreaks under control.
He anticipates working closely with the state from the beginning should cases flare up again.