Nursing Home bodies

Ambulance and police parked Thursday outside the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, where police said 17 bodies were stored in a room at the nursing home in Andover.Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he’s “outraged” that bodies of residents who died at a Sussex County nursing home during the coronavirus outbreak were “allowed to pile up at a makeshift morgue” and called for the state’s top law enforcement officer to investigate.

“New Jerseyans living in our longterm care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity,” Murphy said during his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday in Trenton. “We can and must do better.”

“This is just completely beyond the pale,” the governor added. “A story like this shakes you to the bones.”

Murphy said he’s asked state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to “look into the matter” and review all longterm care facilities in New Jersey “that have experienced a disproportionate number of deaths” during the pandemic.

“I know he will take any and all appropriate action,” Murphy said. “Our full focus must be on mitigating the spread of the virus and minimizing the impact of all who remain, in this case at the Andover facility, as well as all of our other longterm care facilities.”

Plus, the governor said the state Department of Health will enforce “critical safety measures and protocols” at the Andover facility and has sent a team there to assist the center’s staff and residents.

And the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has sent “out-of-state surveyors” to do a “full survey” of the the facility, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

The Andover center — which officials say is the state’s largest longterm care facility — has been the subject of news reports in recent days after authorities discovered 17 dead bodies there last weekend.

On Sunday, authorities received a request for 28 body bags at the home and discovered five bodies being stored in a room, officials said. Staff also reported three other bodies had been “released earlier in the day,” state Persichilli said Thursday.

Persichilli said authorities then required the facility to report daily to the local health department.

On Monday, police received an anonymous tip about a body being loaded into a shed on the property, and discovered 12 more bodies being stored on site, officials said.

Persichilli said the local health department surveyed the facility and reported they were short on staffing. On Thursday morning, she said, the owner said “current staffing is solid.”

“We’re not pleased with what is going on at the Andover facility,” Persichilli added.

In all, 35 people have died at the facility since March 30 — 19 due to COVID-19, Persichilli said. Meanwhile, 103 residents and four staff members have tested positive for the virus, while 133 residents are reporting flu-like or respiratory symptoms, and 48 staff members are reporting flu-like symptoms, she said.

Grewal, the state attorney general, said he is also “deeply troubled by the high number of deaths at certain nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state, especially those with below-average track records for health inspections, staffing, and quality of care.”

The facility’s owner has now placed a refrigerated truck on site in case of any further issues.

Murphy said he is “heartbroken” by the deaths and prays “for the health and recovery of other residents and employees.”

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.

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