The state of New Jersey is set to pay around $53 million as a settlement to the families of 119 seniors who died as a result of alleged mishandling of COVID-19 outbreaks inside the state’s veteran care facilities, according to a report.
Each of the families will receive an average of $445,000, with exact amounts to be determined in arbitration proceedings, according to a New Jersey official who confirmed the terms of the settlement to NJ Advance Media. The overall amount of the settlement is $52,955,000.
“The families of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have gone through so much,” the official told the outlet. “This settlement will hopefully allow them to move forward without years of protracted and uncertain litigation.”
More than 200 residents have died from COVID-19 at three state-run veteran homes, with most of the deaths occurring during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The one in Menlo Park has seen 109 deaths, or about one-third of seniors under its care, followed by Paramus with 89 and Vineland with 13.
Families of those who died while in the state’s care pointed to the homes’ questionable practices in the early days of the pandemic, such as being slow to separate infected and uninfected residents, and allowing staff to go in and out of rooms among those who were sick with COVID-19 and those who were not without wearing masks or gloves.
One of the lawsuits was filed on behalf of Rose Dente, a 99-year-old widow of a U.S. Army veteran. The complaint alleged that Dante died from COVID-19 in March 2020 because of “gross departures from the standards of nursing care and infection control” at the veterans home in Menlo Park, citing the administrators’ discouragement of use of masks and gloves, as well as their hesitance to close common areas where infected and healthy residents mingled.
The death tolls at New Jersey veterans homes prompted a federal investigation, which is still ongoing. In an October 2020 letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, then-U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said there was “cause for concern that the quality of medical care at these nursing homes has been deficient.”
“Our investigations will focus on whether the veterans homes engage in a pattern or practice of violating the rights of veteran residents under the U.S. Constitution or federal statute by failing to provide them adequate medical care generally, and during the coronavirus pandemic in particular,” the letter read.
Murphy at that time accused the Trump administration of trying to politicize the matter.
“The fact that this request from the Department of Justice was announced a week before Election Day speaks volumes about the nature of the review,” said Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “From the beginning of the pandemic, the state of New Jersey has relied on CDC guidance from the federal government to protect the residents of our veterans homes.”