Federal prosecutors have launched an investigation into New Jersey's veterans homes as one of the facilities were 81 residents died from the coronavirus this spring was placed on lockdown this week after another resident tested positive for COVID-19.

In a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey announced an investigation, faulting the the state for not being forthcoming with information requested by the Department of Justice.

The letter cites "recent reports" suggesting that the death tolls at Menlo Park and Paramus nursing homes have been undercounted.

"Moreover, our review of publicly available information gives us cause for concern that the quality of medical care at these nursing homes has been deficient," according to the letter signed by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.

A resident of veterans home in Paramus tested positive for COVID-19 and another 60 patients are awaiting test results, according to a NorthJersey.com report.

Kryn Westhoven, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, told New Jersey 101.5 the test result came back on Sunday and the resident was moved to a separate unit and no other cases reported.

"Staff is using PPE, N-95 mask, gloves isolation gowns and eye protection to prevent the spread of this virus. Food service has closed the dining rooms and meal trays are being served in the resident rooms," Westhoven said, adding that visitation has been suspended for the next 28 days.

Murphy replaced Major Gen. Jemal Beale with Col. Lisa Hou as head of the state’s Military and Veterans Affairs office after 393 positive cases and 146 deaths were reported at the three veterans homes, with 62 dead in Menlo Park and three in Vineland.

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, on Wednesday renewed a call to have the Legislature investigate the state's handling of the veterans nursing homes during the pandemic.

“One of every three residents in the homes in Paramus and the Menlo Park facility in Edison lost their lives. Yet the Democrats in Trenton have consistently circled the wagons to protect the administration," Pennacchio said in a written statement. "Republican efforts to convene a select committee to review the impact of state policy and the decisions that may have contributed to the loss of life have been stymied at every turn as the white wash continues.”

In August, when federal prosecutors requested the information on the nursing homes from the state, Murphy administration officials and Democrats characterized the action as politically motivated.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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