17 dead bodies found crammed in ‘overwhelmed’ New Jersey nursing home
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP — A nursing home was packing 17 bodies in a morgue meant for less than a half dozen before a tipster alerted police.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday afternoon said he was "outraged" after learning that "bodies were allowed to pile up" at the facility's makeshift morgue and called on the Attorney General's Office to investigate this incident and look into any facility with a "disproportionate number of deaths."
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he was "deeply troubled by the high number of deaths at certain nursing homes and other long-term care facilities" and that his office would be investigating "and follow the facts wherever they go."
Police Chief Eric Danielson told New Jersey 101.5 that his department was called to the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center property on Monday on a report about bodies being kept in an outdoor shed. Danielson said the bodies were not in a shed but were, however, being kept in a morgue intended told hold no more than five.
The chief, who is also head of the township's Office of Emergency Management, said he arranged to have 13 of the bodies taken to a refrigerated truck outside Newton Medical in order "to provide some breathing room so they could accommodate more bodies."
The facility has since ordered its own refrigerated truck, according to Danielson.
Danielson said he did not know how many of the deaths were the result of COVID-19.
"It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances," Danielson said, adding that the staff became "overwhelmed" with the number of patients who died in a short amount of time.
Prior to the pandemic, Danielson said police had "minimal problems" with the facility.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Thursday that one of the two buildings at the Andover facility had 19 residents with COVID-19, two of whom are hospitalized. Another 34 residents and four staffers have flu-like symptoms. The building has had five deaths due to COVID-19 since April 3. Building 2, meanwhile, has 84 residents with COVID-19 and another 99 residents and 48 employees with flu-like symptoms. That building has had 28 deaths since March 30, 14 of which were due to COVID-19.
Persichilli said the Andover facility notified the state on Saturday about their need for body bags because they had 28 bodies. The state notified the local health department, which inspected the facility at 2 in the morning. On Tuesday, the state received a complaint about more bodies.
Persichilli said that the facility's owner on Thursday reported having 12 nurses and 39 certified nursing assistants on staff, which what they normally have. The owner said CNAs will receive extra compensation.
Township police on April 9 reported that a "large portion" of the county's COVID-19 cases "are within a long-term care facility."
Conditions at nursing homes have been a concern with the state Department of Health, which is requiring all facilities to report test results and deaths.
Long-term care facilities are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, which produces the most serious complications among the elderly and those with other medical conditions.
Persichilli on Wednesday reported 71,030 cases of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities since March.
The Sussex County Department of Health reported that as of Thursday morning, 103 of the county's 554 cases of COVID-19 are in Andover Township. Sparta has the next highest number of cases with 68. Andover Township has 22 of the county's 40 COVID-19 deaths.
The county health department on Thursday morning did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information. The state Department of Health is not providing information about individuals due to the volume of cases.
James Adams, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, told New Jersey 101.5 that relatives reached out seeking help for patients at the facility. The congressman has spoken with the governor’s office, Sussex County Sheriff Michael Strada, who also heads the Sussex County OEM, the nursing home’s administrator and the owner, according to Adams.
At least 27 residents at the Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus died from COVID-19, according to the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The New Jersey National Guard assigned 40 combat medics to "level off" staffing at Paramus. Another 35 reported to the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage reported at least 45 deaths related to COVID-19 in three healthcare facilities in the city. Advocates held a rally on Wednesday demanding that one of those facilities, the Elizabeth Nursing and Rehab Center, be closed and evacuated, according to News 12 New Jersey.
The mayor told News 12 New Jersey that the facility had been ordered not to accept new patients.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated with comments from Gov. Phil Murphy.