Commissioners’ director Anthony Fasano was upbeat about the way agencies were working together at a press conference on Friday about the National Guard’s deployment to Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center, formerly Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation II.
The nursing home, which is now in the middle of another Covid-19 outbreak, was particularly hard-hit in the early days of the pandemic, making the national news when 17 bodies piled up over a single weekend in the nursing home’s morgue, which has a capacity for only four. A total of 83 residents have died of Covid at the nursing home since the pandemic began.
Last week, the New Jersey health department reported that 169 residents and 101 staff members were testing positive for the virus, the largest outbreak of any long-term care facility in the state. Last Wednesday, the Sussex County commissioners reported that New Jersey on Jan. 10 sent the National Guard to assist at the facility with “maintaining infection control protocols and other duties.”
At Friday’s press conference, Fasano clarified that the guard was being used an extra set of helpful hands, and that he did not know specifically what their duties are at Woodland.
Fasano and attorney Douglas Steinhardt, who chairs the New Jersey Republican State Committee, said the state health department, which has an office in Sussex County, is solely responsible for overseeing conditions at the nursing home. Its inspectors are responsible for making sure the facility follows sound health protocols. Fasano did not have information from the health department to share at the press conference.
Fasano said he visited the nursing home months ago but declined to say how he found it — whether it was in a clean and orderly condition, or whether the staff and residents were in crisis.
”That is an unfair question,” Steinhardt said, repeating that oversight is wholly up to the health department.
He said he was gratified to see the county division of health coming together with the national guard — the county, feds, state, county, working together.
“The takeaway is all sides coming together for the common good,” Fasano said.
The commissioners have been fiercely critical of Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of long-term care facilities during the pandemic, and have been fighting for information and greater transparency to understand why so many people died in nursing homes around the state.
They have been frustrated by what they say is a lack of action on the state level, comparing the Arkansas attorney general favorably with the Murphy administration for taking action against a nursing home owner in his state, who before the Covid crisis was a co-owner of Andover Subacute II, while Murphy does nothing.
“While New Jersey reports no progress, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has issued an arrest warrant for the former owner of Andover Subacute on fraud charges,” said a Dec. 29 press release from the commissioners.
While the county was able to take action by requesting the National Guard deployment, it’s not clear if county officials can do more than continue to beseech the state for help.