TRENTON – Lots of angry words from people who testified at Republican lawmakers’ first COVID oversight hearing Friday, which was focused on the nearly 8,000 deaths in long-term care facilities: senior genocide, Governor “Murderous” Murphy, greed and corruption.

Without administration officials there taking questions, having dismissed the inquiry as a partisan exercise, there were no new answers.

Rima Samman says that closing in on a year later, family members still need answers from the state and nursing homes as to why COVID-positive people were readmitted from hospitals back to long-term care facilities, as well as the care that was – or was not – provided at the height of the pandemic last spring.

“We treat animals better than the way my brother was treated those last 48 hours,” Samman said.

Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long-Term Care Community Coalition, said the March 31, 2020, directive about readmitting residents is rightfully criticized but didn’t force nursing homes to take back sick residents if they didn’t have a way to keep them separate.

“The issue here is that the New Jersey Department of Health never holds facilities accountable for ensuring that they only take in residents that they could provide good care for,” Mollot said.

Elena Stabile said that in addition to forcing sick residents back into nursing homes, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has shielded nursing homes from liability for the deaths.

“He and the other beaut, Judith Persichilli, protected these nursing homes by changing the definition of negligence, making it almost impossible for lawsuits to ensue where we could hold these nursing homes accountable for the death of our loved ones,” Stabile said.

Lawmakers didn’t tell Stabile the change in the negligence standard had been approved almost unanimously by the Legislature: 30-2 in the Senate, 73-1 with five abstentions in the Assembly. Every lawmaker on Friday’s panel voted for it, except for one who didn’t vote.

Legislators joined Glenn Osborne, a resident at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park and president of its Resident Council, in criticizing the state for rehiring Scott Mueller as an assistant chief executive officer at Menlo Park, starting later this month.

Osborne said it doesn’t make sense and will be a constant reminder of the worst of the pandemic in which 155 residents of New Jersey veterans' homes are confirmed to have died from COVID-19.

“Even from a mental point of view, it’s a burden, it’s a hardship, it’s a frightening vision to have somebody here that caused some of the horrific problems that we had here,” Osborne said.

Not all the testimony in the four-hour hearing was backwards-looking. Family members of people currently living in nursing homes said the state needs to do more to end their loved ones’ isolation by allowing for indoor visits if both the residents and visitors have been vaccinated.

“We can’t wait any longer for everyone to be vaccinated,” said Ginger Vukas. “I’m vaccinated. My mother’s vaccinated. Eighty-five percent of the staff are vaccinated where my mom is. Almost all the residents are. And I still cannot go in there.”

“I thought that was the end goal is that we all get vaccinated and we can all be together again,” said Michele Saverino.

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The Census Bureau estimates there are around 1,475,000 residents in New Jersey 65 years or older. The state’s dashboard shows people in that age group have received around 1,007,000 shots – around 58% of all the shots administered in the state. That includes first and second doses.

The Census Bureau estimates there are around 373,300 residents in New Jersey 80 years or older. The state has given around 262,000 shots to people in that age group.

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

READ MORE: LOVED & LOST — NJ’s lives lost to COVID-19

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While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.

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