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May 05, 2020

New Jersey to investigate long-term care facilities across state as COVID-19 cases, deaths continue to climb

The state also now has more flexibility over how it spends funding it received from the federal CARES Act

Nursing Homes Coronavirus
Long-term care facilities new jersey Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Office of the Governor

Gov. Phil Murphy said on Tuesday that New Jersey will be conducting an investigation into long-term care facilities across the state.

New Jersey's Attorney General is opening an investigation into how long-term care facilities across the state have handled the coronavirus outbreak.

Led by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the state will be reviewing how long-term care facilities were operating before the COVID-19 pandemic and how they responded when the crisis ensued. The goal of the investigation will be to look back at what went wrong, if people or facilities did something wrong, hold those responsible for their actions, and inform better policy for the next pandemic, Grewal said Tuesday.

The attorney general's office could press criminal or civil charges against an individual or facility at the end of the investigation, Grewal said.

He would not reveal what specific steps his team was taking or which long-term care facilities are the focus of his office's investigation.

New Jersey also has established an online portal where long-term care facility residents, their family members and employees of these facilities can submit complaints for the attorney general's office to review.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Grewal expect there will be long-term repercussions for long-term care facilities across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hope is that the investigation will bring about an increased enforcement of measures to protect residents and staff in these facilities, Murphy said.

"We know the long-term care issue has been among our biggest challenges, if not the biggest," Murphy said. "We hope the solutions we find here in New Jersey can be a national model for mitigation, protection, and resiliency, whether it be for COVID-19 or a future pandemic."

The number of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths stemming from long-term care facilities continues to increase, and the governor said these facilities account for "a disproportionate number" of New Jersey's COVID-19 deaths.

State officials say there have been COVID-19 outbreaks at more than 500 long-term care facilities in New Jersey, resulting in 22,602 positive cases and 4,151 deaths. Long-term care facilities account for more than 17% of New Jersey's total coronavirus cases, as well as for more than half of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in New Jersey, Murphy said.

New Jersey reported an additional 2,494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, increasing the state's total to 130,593. There have been 8,244 deaths due to the virus statewide. South Jersey has had 11,816 cases and 520 deaths due to COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

Feds make CARES Act funding more flexible

New Jersey finally received some good news about the federal aid it received through the CARES Act: The federal government granted more flexibility with how the state uses the $2.4 billion.

That means New Jersey will be able to keep most of the aid rather than return it to the U.S. Treasury.

"I am grateful for the spirit of cooperation with which the administration and specifically Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his team has taken these discussions and for their willingness to listen to our concerns," Murphy said.

"While this new guidance doesn't get us all the way to where we want or frankly need to be, I'm grateful that we now have greater room to meet some of our immediate needs," Murphy continued. "We will put this money to good use for our first responders and our small businesses.

The changes allows New Jersey to make its next school aid payment of $467 million this week, Murphy said.

Previous guidance from the Treasury Department indicated that states could not us the money to cover revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Murphy also has called upon Congress once again to provide billions in direct financial assistance to mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic on the state. During a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump last Thursday, Murphy indicated that number could total $20-$30 billion.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Murphy said. "This funding was already accounted for in our cash-flow planning. We just didn't know if Congress would let us use it. We still have a long way to go."

"We need Congress to step up in a big way to provide direct relief to the states," Murphy continued. "It doesn't matter if your state is large or small, urban or rural, or led by a Democrat or a Republican. This need is universal."

The New Jersey Department of the Treasury reported on April 15 that the state's revenue rose by 3.6% year-over-year in March, but it warned that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic would begin to be felt in April.

Temporary licenses to be granted to health care programs grads

Thousands of new graduates of nursing, physician assistant, pharmaceutical, and respiratory care programs who have yet to take their medical license exams can receive temporary emergency licenses through the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Murphy announced Tuesday. The initiative will allow recent graduates to join the teams of health care professionals fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are now being accepted for the program. It is open to people who have graduated from one of those programs within the last six months. Recent graduates who have taken and failed their medical licensing exams are not eligible, and those who receive a temporary license and then fail their exams will lose that license.

Only respiratory care therapists are permitted to work in field hospitals, while graduates of the other health care programs can only work in acute care facilities certified by the New Jersey Department of Health.

The program will conclude at the end of the COVID-19 state emergency and public health emergency, but it could end earlier if it is deemed no longer necessary. In that case, the Division of Consumer Affairs will grant participants 90 days to pass their licensing exams and 120 days to obtain medical licenses.

"From the onset of this crisis, our goal has been to eliminate any roadblocks that prevent qualified health care professionals from joining our frontline response efforts," Murphy said. "Today's action allows thousands of recent graduates to quickly join teams on the ground currently fighting COVID-19."\

Last month Murphy authorized the Division of Consumer Affairs to temporarily reactivate the medical licenses of retired health care professionals and grant licenses to foreign doctors. Murphy has also urged any state residents with medical backgrounds to volunteer in the fight against the virus.

The state also has issued a waiver permitting individuals with experience as an EMT or paramedic to return to the job, even if their credentials have expired within the last five years.

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