Murphy to replace leaders of veterans homes where Covid killed nearly 200 residents



New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tours an emergency field hospital.


After months of public outcry, new leadership will be coming to the New Jersey veterans homes that were the site of two of the deadliest outbreaks of the coronavirus in the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday announced new administrators will be named at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Homes at Paramus and Menlo Park as part of a broader shakeup of a department that was scorched for its handling of Covid-19. An estimated 190 residents at the two facilities have died of Covid-19, representing roughly a third of their population.

Within the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees both homes as well as a third in Vineland, Murphy is elevating Lisa J. Hou to interim adjutant general and commissioner, replacing Major General Jemal Beale.

The New Jersey Globe was first to report that Beale had resigned.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, despite significant challenges, DMAVA has worked to save lives and support our veterans,” Murphy said in a statement. “Having served as a Field Surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the conflicts and as a respected medical professional, Dr. Hou will provide invaluable leadership during the ongoing pandemic. We wish General Beale the best in his future endeavors.”

Brigadier General Patrick M. Kennedy, the current assistant adjutant general, will be Hou’s primary deputy. Walter R. Nall, a retired colonel now serving as the acting deputy commissioner for veterans affairs, will replace Sean Van Lew as the director of the Division of Veterans Healthcare Services.

The state has not yet identified who will be taking over at either veterans home, only that Matthew Schottlander (Paramus) and Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles (Menlo Park) will be replaced.

State and federal lawmakers were quick to praise the news of their imminent dismissal.

Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Bill Pascrell, who first called for Schottlander’s resignation in early August, said Murphy’s shakeup of the facility was “a long time coming.”

“We need a full report of what happened so that we can improve policies to ensure a tragedy like this won’t ever be repeated,” the congressmen said in a joint statement.

Murphy has promised there will be a comprehensive assessment of how his administration managed its response to deadly outbreaks within long-term care — where more than 7,100 residents who tested positive ultimately died — with particular focus on the state’s veterans homes. Republican efforts to launch a legislative committee to investigate the administration have been unsuccessful.

“This is welcome and overdue and we’re grateful there are changes, and that the new adjutant general is a medical professional, which is critical. The replacement of the CEOs and administrators should follow suit,” state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, said in an interview. “More than anything, this is a health care facility as much as it’s their home.”

Allegations of mismanagement and infection control failures, reported widely in both the Record and The Wall Street Journal, dogged both facilities since the spring.

Less than two months into the pandemic, around the time cases were peaking, Murphy's veterans affairs chief, U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Piterski, launched a short-lived campaign to challenge Gottheimer. A week after that effort sputtered — he scuttled the effort after one day — he resigned.

Federal health inspectors saw infected patients mingling with residents of a dementia unit at Paramus. At Menlo Park, Glenn Osborne, head of the residents council told state lawmakers administrators were likely suppressing the official body count attributable to Covid-19.

“Menlo Park Veterans Home officially reported 62 Covid deaths. Based on my years here at the veterans home, there were usually eight to 10 deaths per month. Therefore, the numbers do not add up. There were simply too many residents dying too fast,” Osborne told a joint panel of Senate and Assembly legislators in August, many of whom were choking back tears. “Many of these deaths were absolutely avoidable, in my humble opinion.“

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-17 03:55:30 -0700