NEWTON, N.J. – The owner of a massive New Jersey nursing home facility where bodies of residents who died from COVID-19 were found, said Thursday the situation is “under control” and that they are properly staffed to handle the outbreak.
Thirty-five people have died at the Andover Rehabilitation and Subacute Care I and II home since late March. Five bodies were found in a makeshift holding area Easter Sunday after authorities received tips. An additional 13 were found Monday.
In all, New Jersey authorities say that as of Wednesday afternoon, 103 additional residents have tested positive for coronavirus and an additional 133 are exhibiting symptoms. There are around 500 residents in the long-term care home, the largest in the state.
“It’s under control,” said owner Chaim Sheinbaum of Lakewood, New Jersey. “It’s a tragedy, it’s a pandemic.”
Nonetheless, Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered his attorney general to investigate the home.
Murphy said he was "heartbroken" about reports of deaths at the facility and "outraged that bodies of the dead were piling up in a makeshift facility." A case like this, he said, "shakes you to your bones."
"New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity," Murphy said. "We can and must do better."
Sheinbaum, said in a statement that the facility’s staffing levels were "solid" with 12 nurses and 39 certified nursing assistants, which he indicated is about normal.
He said that holiday and weekend "issues" combined with more deaths than is usual contributed to "a greater number of bodies in the facility's morgue." Sheinbaum said that the room "ideally" holds four bodies at a time and has a maximum capacity of 12.
The problems at Andover are emblematic of those playing out in nursing homes nationwide. Many of these facilities have little or no planning to handle an outbreak of this size. And often, the problems remain hidden from even family members trying to reach their loved ones.
As a result, nursing home residents are getting sick and dying behind closed doors in what is largely an unseen epidemic, with the number of COVID-19-related deaths in such facilities climbing into the thousands as families fearing for elderly relatives scramble for information.
In the Northeast, the nation’s coronavirus hotspot, more than 2,400 nursing home and assisted living facility residents have died in New York from the coronavirus, making up 24% of the state's total fatalities. New Jersey’s 252 nursing home fatalities as of last week accounted for one in eight of the state’s deaths.
At Andover, the problems extend beyond the recent outbreak.
One section of the facility — known as Andover Subacute and Rehab II — has had 23 complaints resulting in citations over the past three years, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. It was given a one-star rating, which means "much below average," on the Medicare website.
A November 2019 inspection resulted in five citations, including one for a patient whose hip fracture was not diagnosed until 11 days after a fall. It was also cited in its most recent fire inspections for not having a proper emergency preparedness plan and for not having elevators that firefighters could control in the event of a fire.
Federal data shows that the facility's other building, Andover Subacute and Rehab I, fared better with a three-star rating. It had one cited deficiency earlier this year for failing to properly document a patient’s oxygen use, but the issue was corrected. It was cited in its most recent fire inspection for deficiencies with its automatic sprinkler system.
Scheinbaum, a licensed nursing home administrator in New Jersey, is also listed as an officer in two additional care centers in the southern part of New Jersey:
Riverfront Rehabilitation And Healthcare Center in Pennsauken, which has 180 beds, and Wynwood Rehabilitation And Healthcare Center in Cinnaminson, with 114 beds.
The four centers had been cited 28 times for health-related deficiencies during inspections in 2019 and 2020, according to data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Those deficiencies ranged from concerns about patient medications, issues with patient food preparation, concerns about preventing fall risks, failing to tell doctors and family members about issues impacting their patients and pest control concerns.
New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said state officials were notified on Saturday that the Andover facility needed body bags and that 28 bodies were being stored there, leading to the initial investigation by a local health official at 2 a.m. She said that five bodies were found at the facility — another three had been released earlier in the day — and the home appeared to be adequately staffed at the time. It was told to report daily to the health department.
After another report of bodies came in days later, she said, local health officials found that the facility was "short on staffing." She said that health department staff has been sent to Andover to monitor the facility "on a regular basis."
"We're not pleased with what is going on at the Andover facility," she said.
A statement issued by the facility Thursday said: “Our patient safety is our first priority.”
By then, health and law enforcement officials had arranged for a refrigerator truck to be sent to the home to allow it to store bodies properly.
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