As feds crack down, Governor Murphy seeks outside management of troubled veterans homes
The Murphy administration is seeking a private vendor to run three of the state’s veterans homes, two years after the homes saw some of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the nation and a week after the federal government said it would cut off some of its funding at the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s move also comes weeks after the release of a report from state health inspectors that included reports of improper care and abuse at the Menlo Park home. Murphy last week sent a team of long-term care professionals there to correct problems.
According to Murphy’s Wednesday announcement, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will look for an outside company to manage the Menlo Park home and veterans homes in Paramus and Vineland. The vendor will be tasked with making “systematic changes,” a Murphy statement said.
The new vendor, when chosen, would become the immediate CEO of the Menlo Park home while changes are implemented there, according to the statement, which said the changes will then be applied in Paramus and Vineland.
“The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and our interagency partners are moving aggressively to ensure the highest standards of care for the veterans, veteran spouses, and Gold Star families in our care,” Brig. Gen. Lisa J. Hou, the department’s commissioner, said in the statement.
The Murphy administration has been sharply criticized for how it managed the COVID-19 outbreaks at the state-run veterans homes. An outbreak at the Menlo Park home in November 2021 lasted for months and led to 17 deaths and hundreds of infections, according to NorthJersey.com. More than 100 residents died there in early 2020 when the coronavirus swept through the state.
Republican lawmakers this week renewed their plea to Senate President Nicholas Scutari to launch a legislative investigation of the Murphy administration, a probe Democrats in the Legislature have said should wait until the outcome of investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the New Jersey attorney general, and the State Commission of Investigation.
That does not preclude lawmakers from launching their own probe, 16 Senate Republicans said this week in their letter to Scutari.
“Those investigations are likely focused on identifying criminal and civil rights violations for prosecution and enforcement actions, not on improving state policies regarding the management and oversight of these facilities, which would be our goal,” the letter reads.