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- Oct 1
Gottheimer, Pascrell Grill Congressional Witnesses at Hearing On Failures at State-Run Veteran Home in Paramus
Washington, July 29, 2020
Testimony from Gottheimer, Pascrell highlights catastrophic COVID-19 impact on NJ long-term care facilities
On July 29, 2020, U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Bill Pascrell (NJ-9) both questioned witnesses at a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing addressing the nationwide crisis in veterans care homes ravaged by COVID-19.
Pascrell and Gottheimer were both invited to participate in the hearing and submit testimony on the devastating coronavirus outbreak at the state-run New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus (NJVHP) — in Bergen County, New Jersey — where 81 residents and 1 staff member died of COVID-19.
Watch footage from today’s hearing HERE.
“In North Jersey, the ongoing tragedy at the New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus has stunned the nation and laid bare the terrible vulnerability of these facilities,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-9), who has helped lead efforts in Congress to highlight senior home vulnerability. “As the pandemic continues, we must act right now to learn from the failures at Paramus and elsewhere and do whatever is possible to shield our most vulnerable neighbors. This includes reversing the unconscionable cuts by the Trump administration to long-term care protection. I want to thank my colleague and neighbor Josh Gottheimer for his work on NJVHP, and Chairman Mark Takano and Chairwoman Julia Brownley for their dogged attention to protecting our senior homes from this scourge. Continued oversight and reforms will save lives.”
“I’ll never forget the first phone call we received about the state-run veteran’s home in Paramus, in the Fifth Congressional District I represent. It was from a panicked loved-one of a facility resident — his brother-in-law, a Korean War veteran. He had just learned, second-hand, that there was a massive outbreak of the coronavirus in the facility. His family hadn’t heard a peep from the facility’s administrators. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone. Overnight, the story broke that 37 people had died in the facility in just two weeks,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) during today’s hearing. “Immediately, Congressman Bill Pascrell and I wrote to the Secretary of the VA requesting immediate assistance – strike teams of nurses and doctors – as well as PPE to protect staff and residents. Eventually, at our urging, 56 VA personnel and 65 NJ National Guard members would be sent to the home, helping stem the tide of the outbreak. We even sent top doctors and infectious disease experts from North Jersey’s world-class hospitals to help advise and monitor the facility.”
Upon learning of the outbreak at this facility, on April 10th, Gottheimer and Pascrell contacted the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the VA Inspector General requesting they open an immediate federal investigation and take additional measures to protect remaining residents. Following Gottheimer and Pascrell's requests for assistance and additional personnel, the VA then announced that 90 nurses would be sent to support the veterans’ facilities throughout New Jersey, including the Paramus Veterans Home. Following Gottheimer and Pascrell's requests, and coordination with the State, the New Jersey National Guard also sent medics to assist at the Paramus Veterans Home.
Gottheimer and Pascrell also worked together, with coordination with NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NJ DMVA) Brigadier General Jemal Beale, to have the top COVID-19 experts and physicians from North Jersey hospitals begin consulting with the Paramus Veterans Home’s medical staff, to review protocols, collaborate on best practices, and help triage residents with pressing medical needs.
Gottheimer and Pascrell have continued to demand answers and accountability on behalf of all residents, veterans, and their families.
The current status of COVID-19 outbreaks in New Jersey’s state-run veterans homes from the NJ DMVA can be found here.
Testimony from both Pascrell and Gottheimer are found below.
Testimony of Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Thank you, Chairwoman Brownley, for your leadership in holding this critical hearing. I appreciate your gracious invitation to provide testimony regarding COVID-19 and our State Veterans Homes. You, Chairman Takano and the committee staff have been a valuable resource to us in taking on these issues since we first learned about the failures in Paramus over three months ago.
The Honorable Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05)
Thank you Chairwoman Brownley, and Committee Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Roe, for calling this hearing on the unacceptable crisis in our state veterans homes, and for inviting me to participate today.
I’ll never forget the first phone call we received about the state-run veteran’s home in Paramus, in the Fifth Congressional District I represent. It was from a panicked loved-one of a facility resident — his brother-in-law, a Korean War veteran. He had just learned, second-hand, that there was a massive outbreak of the coronavirus in the facility. His family hadn’t heard a peep from the facility’s administrators.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone. Overnight, the story broke that 37 people had died in the facility in just two weeks.
Immediately, Congressman Bill Pascrell and I wrote to the Secretary of the VA requesting immediate assistance – strike teams of nurses and doctors – as well as PPE to protect staff and residents. Eventually, at our urging, 56 VA personnel and 65 NJ National Guard members would be sent to the home, helping stem the tide of the outbreak. We even sent top doctors and infectious disease experts from North Jersey’s world-class hospitals to help advise and monitor the facility.
At one point, up to 98% of residents had either tested positive for COVID-19, were awaiting test results, or were already hospitalized. In total, more than eighty veteran residents in Paramus - who served our country with honor - tragically died from the virus.
In early April, Congressman Bill Pascrell and I wrote to the VA’s Inspector General, requesting an immediate federal investigation to find out exactly what went wrong, how this could have been avoided, and why families were not notified sooner.
I would like to respectfully request unanimous consent to enter the correspondence into the Committee Record.
The IG replied: “The NJ DMVA has principal oversight of these facilities and the facilities are licensed by the New Jersey Department of Health.
Those authorities would be the appropriate offices to make the information that you requested available concerning the care of veterans in those facilities. Moreover, with respect to your questions about VA’s oversight role and actions, VA would be in a better position to provide responses to those questions. Given VA’s relatively limited role with respect to state veterans nursing homes, we have not opened a review of this matter.”
That is simply unacceptable.
That is why this Committee is exactly right to ask, “Who’s in charge?”
It’s also why I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation — the Nursing Home Pandemic Protection Act of 2020 — to ensure much stronger and stricter Federal oversight of State Veterans Homes and other long-term care facilities, and helped introduce legislation— the SOS Act — to create rapid response “strike” teams of clinical and non-clinical staff to provide immediate support.
As we know, outbreaks of the coronavirus that could have been avoided did not just happen at the New Jersey homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, but also the Soldiers Home in Holyoke Massachusetts, the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Maryland, the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora, Colorado, and many others. This is a national problem.
What happened at these homes? What changes must be made to ensure this never happens again? What do we owe the families of the residents and staff we have lost to the virus?
These are the answers we seek with this hearing, and I look forward to learning from our witnesses.
It’s no surprise that 74% of those who testified during the public hearings oppose the MTA’s Congestion Tax.