State is set to pay families for negligence in veteran’s nursing homes.
The state of New Jersey was previously accused of “gross negligence and incompetence” over its handling of the COVID outbreak in the state-run veteran’s homes. Now, it will pay close to $53 million to the families of 119 residents who lost loved ones as a result of COVID-19. Each family is set to receive roughly $445,000, based on arbitration proceedings.
“Cases settle for a variety of reasons. The families of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have gone through so much,” said an administration official. “This settlement will hopefully allow them to move forward without years of protracted and uncertain litigation.”
A veteran’s home in Menlo Park and one in Paramus reported two of the highest COVID-related death rates nationwide with the coronavirus (at its onset) taking the lives of more than 200 residents. The case was handled out of court and the two locations remain under investigation.
New Jersey has decided to not stop all COVID-19 lawsuits while it improves its response to the pandemic and is actively elevating the bar for what might be considered negligence. Initially, some of the state’s homes were run by operators instructing staff not to wear PPE while caring for residents because it “might scare them.”
Administrators of the facilities were accused of “failing to institute proper infection prevention measures as the virus began running rampant despite clear evidence of just how quickly COVID was spreading,” according to court documents. They were also accused of “waiting too long before taking proper measures such as isolating residents from staff members who were testing positive.” These staff members are asked to continue to work with residents despite having the coronavirus.
One of the lawsuits filed against the veteran’s homes was the case of Rose Dente. It was alleged that the “99-year-old widow of a U.S. Army veteran died due to gross departures from the standards of nursing care and infection control” at the Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park. The suit, filed by the family on her behalf, claimed, “directives by the facility’s administration not to use masks and gloves, and permitting residents to congregate in common areas even after the administration knew that it had COVID-19 positive residents and staff in the building.”
According to the most recent settlement, the state of New Jersey will pay 60% of or $31.7 million within 90 days of receiving “closing papers” from all plaintiffs. The total dollar amount of the settlement is $52,955,000.
Attorney Paul M. da Costa of Roseland, who represented many of the families said, “No amount of money can ever obviously replace the lives of the lost veterans, but my clients and I are satisfied that this settlement provides a good measure of civil justice and accountability. The fact a settlement has been reached before any lawsuits were actually filed, avoiding avoids years of protracted litigation, was significant to my clients being able to work towards obtaining closure.”
Brigadier General Jemal J. Beale, the adjutant general overseeing the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, stepped down in light of the negligence apparent in the state’s nursing homes. Dr. Lisa Hou was subsequently appointed adjutant general and Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.