Help could soon be on the way for NJ’s beleaguered nursing homes

The Army National Guard could be deployed to overwhelmed nursing homes and assisted living facilities in New Jersey within the next several days to help them manage the COVID-19 outbreak, state officials said on Monday.

Planet Princeton attended the governor’s daily press briefing on Saturday to ask whether the state was considering bringing in the National Guard. David Barile, who serves as the medical director at several area long-term care facilities and is the medical director of geriatric and palliative services at the Princeton Medical Center, had called on the state to send in the National Guard in editorials and letters.

Barile said many workers who are staffing long-term care facilities are unable to come to work because they are sick with COVID-19 themselves. 

“This leaves ill residents without the proper care and protection they need to prevent getting infected,” Barile said, adding that staffing shortages also affect all residents of long-term care facilities, not just those with COVID-19.

“Most of our frail elders in nursing and assisted living facilities require hands-on assistance with basic functions such as eating, toileting, and bathing,” Barile said. “In the current lock-down environment where all are kept in their rooms or should be, elders are not being fed, cleaned, nor cared for with regard to their basic needs.  Many are left bedbound for days, likely to result in bedsores and subsequent illnesses such as pneumonia and fractures due to falls.”

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Saturday that the state had put in a request previously, but that the National Guard had been diverted to another area. She said the state was putting in another request.

“We are working as hard as we can, and we are going to be looking at student nurses to call them up to go to long-term care,” Persichilli said. “The difficulty is, we might be able to get people to clean, and we might be able to get people to feed people. But it’s very difficult to get people to do the hands-on activities of daily living, and that’s what we are working on. We have sent over 1,000 names from our volunteer portal to the nursing homes, and when they (the nursing homes) call them up to see if people can come to volunteer, not all of them are anxious to do the work that we need.”

Nearly half of all deaths in the state appear to come from nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of Monday afternoon, more than 500 long-term care facilities in the state had at least one positive COVID-19 case, and more than 4,000 deaths had been reported at long-term care facilities in the state.

“Our challenges and the long-term care reality are dire, and they are not unique in America right now,” Governor Phil Murphy said on Saturday.

At the press briefing on Monday, Murphy said the National Guard has helped out “in a big way” at the veterans’ nursing homes in Menlo Park and Paramus. “They have indicated in some places they are were open-minded to surge capacity in non-veteran homes,” Murphy said. “The challenge with the National Guard is that if they are medically qualified, they are already being used somewhere. We would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s the same with nurses. There is a large population of the National Guard that is not in healthcare. That is the group we are looking at aggressively to deploy to do non-medical stuff like cooking, cleaning, and basic stuff that adds and augments to staff.”

Persichilli said Monday that clinical professionals like nurses are needed the most, but they are already working. She said the state has asked for medical assistance — people who could work under nurses and do site testing, janitorial work, cooking, meal preparations, communication with families, administrative work, security work, and logistics to make sure supplies and equipment are where they need to be. “We were on the phone working with the general and his team all weekend and throughout today,” she said. “We hope to hear something more positive in the next several days. They’ve been more than wanting to help out. We just need to make sure we put them in the right spots.”

Following are data on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in long-term care facilities in the Princeton region. A few long-term care facilities said the data was not accurate when it came out, and that it included staff and residents. But facilities have had the chance to update that data with the state and correct any errors over the past few weeks. The information is self-reported by nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There does seem to be a lag of at least a few days in the reporting of death data.

Some family members of residents in some area facilities have questioned whether the data truly reflects the toll of COVID-19 on long-term care facilities. Several residents told Planet Princeton a loved one died at an area long-term care facility in March or April and had symptoms of COVID-19, but was never tested and never deemed a COVID-19 death. In a few cases, a parent with COVID-19 was moved from a long-term care facility by a relative and taken to a hospital, where the parent later died. It is unclear whether these cases are also being counted as long-term care deaths. When asked about a particular case in Princeton a few weeks ago, a spokesman for the municipality said a in the case of a parent being moved from a facility to a hospital, the death would not count as a long-term care death.

On Saturday, Murphy said the data on long-term care facilities is more than directionally accurate. “It was well overdue coming from the operators,” he said, adding that communication from long-term care facilities “has left more than a little bit to be desired.”

Facility name, town, positive cases, deaths

Acorn Glen, Princeton, 13 positives, 1 death

Artis Senior Living, West Windsor, 38 positives, 11 deaths

Atrium Post Acute Care and Rehab of Princeton, Plainsboro, 54 positives, 16 deaths

Bear Creek Assisted Living, West Windsor, 40 positives, 8 deaths

Brandywine Living at Pennington, Pennington Boro, 14 positives, 4 deaths

Brookdale Hamilton, Hamilton, 41 positives, 2 deaths

CareOne Hamilton, Hamilton, 45 positives, 8 deaths

Clover Meadows Healthcare and Rehab Center, Lawrence, 65 positives, 17 deaths

The Chelsea At Forsgate, Monroe, 39 positives, 12 deaths

Elms of Cranbury, Cranbury, 9 positives, 0 deaths

Greenwood House, Ewing, 35 positives, 6 deaths

Hamilton Continuing Care, Hamilton, 88 positives, 25 deaths

Hamilton Grove, Hamilton, 65 positives, 9 deaths

Homestead at Hamilton, Hamilton, 12 positives, 4 deaths

Meadow Lakes East Windsor, East Windsor, 43 positives, 6 deaths

Mercerville Center, Hamilton, 78 positives, 9 deaths

Merwick Care & Rehabilitation Center Plainsboro, 12 positives, 1 death

Monroe Village Senior Living, Monroe, 11 positives, 4 deaths

Park Place Center, South Brunswick, 55 positives, 12 deaths

Preferred Care at Mercer, Ewing, 80 positives, 13 deaths

Princeton Care Center, Princeton, 31 positives, 5 deaths

Providence Nursing and Rehab, Trenton, 59 positives, 16 deaths

Rose Hill Assised Living, Robbinsville, 4 positives, 0 deaths

Royal Health Gate Nursing Home, Trenton, 22 positives, 3 deaths

St. Josephs Morris Hall Lawrence, 57 positives, 4 deaths

St. Lawrence Rehab Center, Lawrence, 22 positives, 0 deaths

Stonebridge at Montgomery, Montgomery, 38 positives, 1 death

Water’s Edge Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Trenton, 146 positives, 26 deaths