SUSSEX COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
Sussex County Administrative Center
One Spring Street
Newton, NJ 07860
County of Sussex
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
December 24, 2021 Samantha Gabriele, 973-579-0210 ext. 1125
Is The Murphy Administration using taxpayer money to block getting to the truth about COVID nursing home deaths?
Governor Phil Murphy is on another foreign vacation – this time Costa Rica – while his administration’s actions raise more questions about whether we will ever get to the truth as to why nearly 10,000 people died as a result of Murphy’s Executive Order 103.
A $53 million settlement to the families of more than 100 veterans’ home residents who died due to the decisions of the Murphy administration, while deservedly good news for families that suffered, ends the discovery process of their lawsuit and with it, the possible disclosure of documentary evidence that could help resolve why nearly 10,000 residents of long-term care facilities died. Murphy’s administration has ignored Open Public Records Requests for information about the deaths and the Democrat-controlled Legislature has blocked an independent legislative investigation, leaving legal action in the courts as the only alternative for getting to the truth.
Speaking for legislative Republicans, Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) said the $53 million settlement demonstrates the need for a comprehensive investigation and legislative oversight hearings:
“New Jerseyans are once again paying for the mismanagement of the pandemic by the Murphy administration,” said Senator Pennacchio. “After 10,000 nursing and veterans home residents paid with their lives, millions of New Jersey taxpayers will be forced to pay with their wallets to settle claims of negligence and incompetence made against the administration. The settlement is yet another attempt by the Murphy administration to prevent a full and transparent investigation into the tragic decisions that led to thousands of preventable deaths.”
According to published reports, the Murphy administration confirmed it will pay $52.9 million to settle claims with 119 families of veterans’ home residents whose deaths were attributed to the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.
“At every turn, however, the Murphy administration has resisted the efforts of grieving families, legislators, and the press to understand why so many of our frail and elderly veterans and nursing home residents died needlessly,” said Senator Pennacchio.
In May of 2020, Senate Republicans exposed deadly orders issued by the Murphy administration that forced nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients from hospitals. The directives from the Department of Health prohibited long-term care facilities from testing patients for COVID-19 prior to admission.
To understand why those and other disastrous orders were issued, Senator Pennacchio introduced a resolution that, if adopted, would convene an investigative “Senate Select Committee on the Executive Branch’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Senate Democrats blocked his efforts to bring the resolution, SR-68, up for a vote by the New Jersey Senate on five separate occasions over 19 months. Earlier this week, every single Democrat in the chamber voted to table Senator Pennacchio’s latest attempt to call a vote on the resolution during a Senate session on December 20.
Sussex County was one of the hardest hit counties with nursing home deaths. On November 2, Sussex County residents voted overwhelmingly to allow the Board of County Commissioners to pursue action against the Murphy administration. The ballot question, which was approved by over 80 percent of the voters, resolved to do the following:
“On behalf of those who died of COVID-19 while residents of long-term care facilities within Sussex County and their families, as well as the Sussex County family members of residents of long-term care facilities situated elsewhere in New Jersey, the Voters of Sussex County, State of New Jersey, direct the
Board of County Commissioners of the County of Sussex to consider every legal action necessary to compel the Governor of the State of New Jersey and the Leadership of the New Jersey Legislature to release all public information requested by Sussex County on behalf of and by its citizens and, in the furtherance of full transparency, conduct an independent, public, bi-partisan legislative investigation into the governmental policies, regulations, and oversight of New Jersey’s long term care facilities (nursing and veterans’ homes) regarding the deaths from COVID-19 of more than 8,000 residents.”
YES: 42,965 81 percent
NO: 10,199 19 percent
Sussex County Commissioner Herb Yardley asked why the Governor waited until after the election to settle this lawsuit and added: “I’ve been waiting for a response to my OPRA requests on this for over a year. The lawsuits brought by family members offer a way to compel the Murphy administration to release the documents they’re hiding.”
Deputy Director Anthony Fasano stated “A $53M taxpayer funded settlement provides no explanation for the tragic loss of life that took place in our nursing homes. It’s unacceptable. Residents, families and staff deserve to know what happened and that it will never happen again. How did the policies, decisions and oversight directed at our state’s long-term care facilities result in thousands of nursing home deaths? This administration cannot settle its way out of providing desperately-needed answers and accountability.”
Senator Pennacchio noted that Governor Murphy isn’t even in the country to answer questions as news of the multi-million-dollar settlement was shared with the press at the start of a holiday weekend when few people would be watching.
“Governor Murphy is on another vacation and families still don’t have the answers they deserve,” added Senator Pennacchio. “One week he’s off to his luxury villa in Italy, now he’s jet-setting to Costa Rica. You know who isn’t going on vacation? The 10,000 American heroes he sentenced to death in our veterans and nursing homes.”