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Much needed federal assistance is on its way to state veterans homes after more COVID-19 deaths

EDISON – Much needed federal assistance is on its way to help those who made sacrifices for our freedom.

Gov. Phil Murphy said in discussions with Robert Wilkie, U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Wilkie agreed with the governor’s request to send 90 nurses from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to assist staff at the three state veterans homes.

The 90 nurses will be in addition to the combat medics of the New Jersey National Guard already on site at two of the three homes.

On April 9 – after 10 related COVID-19 deaths – the combat medics were deployed to help and assist staff at the veterans homes. Forty combat medics were sent to the veterans home in Paramus and 35 combat medics were sent to the New Jersey State Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison.

In addition, through the state volunteer COVID-19 portal, some 25 volunteer nurses have also been sent to also assist the veterans homes.

There are 900 residents, who include military veterans, veteran spouses and Gold Star parents (of members of the military who were killed in action during a period of war), living at the three homes in Paramus, Menlo Park in Edison and Vineland.

The state Division of Veterans Healthcare Services, managed by Director Sean VanLew Sr., operates the three modern long-term care nursing homes.

As of April 14, out of 269 residents at the home in Paramus, there have been 27 deaths as a result of COVID-19, and out of 270 residents at the Menlo Park home, there have been 14 deaths, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli said.

The home in Vineland has one resident who has been tested for COVID-19, she added.

VanLew reported the first positive COVID-19 case at the Paramus site through a letter to loved ones on March 29. He explained the resident tested positive while in the hospital.

As of April 9, the homes have collectively reported 58 COVID-19 positive cases.

Persichilli said VanLew had relayed the homes were experiencing staffing issues, which prompted the deployment of the combat medics.

VanLew, standing outside the Paramus veterans home, issued a video statement for families of loved ones at the homes on April 10.

“I can assure you despite what you might hear, despite what you may see, all of our facilities have been, from the start, and are currently operating, within the strictest guidelines as issued by the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “The quality care for our veterans is our number one goal. We are veterans serving veterans.”

VanLew urged family members to reach out to staff with any questions they may have.

State officials have expressed grave concerns for long-term care facilities in the midst of the global novel coronavirus pandemic, which is a problem across the country.

Since March 6, the New Jersey Department of Health has issued 18 orders or guidelines for long-term care facilities, which include the three state veterans memorial homes, to follow in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The orders and guidelines include curbing outside visitation, allowing facilities to hire out-of-state certified nursing assistants to supplement staff, notifying residents’ families and staff of COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities, universal masking, and most recently, prohibiting admissions for facilities that cannot cohort and maintain appropriate infection prevention restrictions.

For more information, visit www.nj.gov/military/veterans/memorial-homes/. For the state volunteer portal, visit covid19.nj.gov/forms/volunteer.

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