Top NJ Republican: $53 million settlement for COVID deaths not a substitute for accountability

State agreed earlier this week to pay families of 119 veterans who died during the COVID pandemic’s early days in state-run homes.

Updated: December 31, 2021 - 11:32pm

The state’s $53 million settlement with the families of veterans who died in state-run homes is being characterized by a prominent state Republican as a start but not a replacement for “answers and accountability.”

The state agreed to pay roughly $53 million to families of veterans who died during the COVID pandemic’s early days. The settlement covers 119 residents who died during early outbreaks at the Menlo Park and Paramus Veterans Memorial Homes.

News broke as Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, departed the state for a Costa Rica vacation.

“It is rather convenient that this news breaks just as the governor jets off to Costa Rica on vacation, but we want the veterans’ families to know that we won’t let the Murphy administration off the hook for simply settling out of court,” Assembly Republican Leader-Elect John DiMaio, R-Warren, said in a statement. “There are 205 American heroes who died in the state-run veterans homes. All of their loved ones deserve justice.”

New Jersey Senate Republicans have requested an investigation into the state’s COVID-19 response. On Tuesday, all 15 members of the Senate Republican Caucus signed a letter to Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, calling for a select committee with subpoena powers.

On March 31, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a directive barring nursing homes from turning away patients who tested positive for COVID-19. The mandate, which was subsequently rescinded, mirrored one issued in New York.

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil-rights investigation into how veterans’ homes handled the COVID outbreak, which DiMaio indicated focused on the Menlo Park and Paramus facilities. Separately, the state attorney general is taking a broader look at how New Jersey’s long-term care facilities responded to the pandemic, DiMaio said.

“The true colossal failure during the pandemic has been the administration’s directives that killed hundreds in our veterans homes. From the lack of infection control to threatening employees who wore masks, it’s time the public finds out the truth from our taxpayer-funded health officials through legislative hearings,” DiMaio said. “While the current investigations are needed and absolutely warranted, they provide little comfort to those of us who want to make sure our veterans are now being protected and provided the best care following the senseless tragedies.”

The state runs veterans homes in Menlo Park, Paramus and Vineland. DiMaio said that the Menlo Park home recorded 103 resident deaths, while Paramus reported 89 and Vineland 13.

Murphy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.