A directive that pushed older New Jerseyans discharged from hospitals back into their nursing homes, where more than 6,000 people have now died from coronavirus, was among the topics critiqued at an Assembly committee oversight hearing Tuesday.

Cindy Mann, a partner at Manatt Health, a consulting firm paid $500,000 by the state to analyze the nursing home struggles, said New Jersey wasn’t alone in being singularly focused on hospitals when bracing for the surge amid a shortage of protective gear.

“It was not, I think, the right policy judgment to make at the time. It was a common policy judgment that was made around the country,” Mann said.

Mann noted that the state essentially rescinded the March 31 directive with an April 13 emergency order to curtail admissions.

“There was a different view about the wisdom of bringing in hospital-discharged patients into nursing home facilities that weren’t equipped to be able to care for them and/or care appropriately for the individuals who were in the facility,” Mann said.

Mann said long-term care “tends to be a stepchild of the health care system” and was not the primary focus of New Jersey’s initial response, nor that of other states.

After the state’s March 31 directive, around 200 long-term care facilities told the state Department of Health they couldn’t accept COVID+ residents leaving hospitals. The state reserved more than 1,200 beds at three providers who could take discharged patients whose facilities couldn’t handle them.

“So that was done pretty soon after that directive, and as new information came out, the policy changed and evolved over time,” Mann said.

No officials in the Murphy administration testified in person at the oversight hearing, to the disappointment of lawmakers. Three submitted written testimony but, obviously, didn’t answer questions.

"We're still flying the plane," Gov. Phil Murphy said when asked about their absence from the hearing. "We just announced 51 fatalities overnight. We still have 1,291 people in the hospital. We've lost over 6,000 people in long-term care facilities."

Kevin Slavin, president of chief executive officer of St. Joseph’s Health, said on behalf of the New Jersey Hospital Association that the state “made the very difficult but right decisions” in its pandemic response.

“I want to be clear, we supported and we still support that decision to allow long-term care facilities to accept those patients as long as they had the proper protocols and capabilities in place,” Slavin said.

Slavin recalled how hospitals were so jammed they nearly had to turn away patients.

“We encourage you to, as you are doing, look at the dire statistics. Keep the focus on data and science, not on anecdotal and media reports,” Slavin said.

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Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said lawmakers can and should respond to those stories.

“They’re from constituents. These are real people that express their pain and issues and challenges. And we need to respond to anecdotal reports,” Vainieri Huttle said.

Slavin said that between March 31 and May 23, 92 nursing home residents were discharged from hospitals and readmitted to facilities across the state.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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