Lawmakers clash with Health Secretary Judith Persicily at Monday’s budget hearing, criticize state’s COVID response and blame Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration for high death toll in state nursing homes did.
Persichilli appeared before the Congressional Budget Committee to discuss some of the initiatives the health ministry hopes to fund in the upcoming budget.
But in a two-hour hearing, Persichilli was set to defend her department’s decisions during the pandemic and, in particular, the oversight of long-term care centers. More than 8,500 residents of her nursing home have died from her COVID-related illnesses in the past two years.
“It’s the elephant in the room. We’re definitely talking about long-term care,” Persichilli said Monday.
Republicans have criticized the Murphy administration for being a mistake the state made early in the pandemic and contributing to the disastrous death toll in nursing homes. A study detailed how nursing homes are severely understaffed and underprepared and recommended major reforms and oversight across the state’s 660 long-term care centers.
The state health department has implemented nearly all of the recommendations from Manatt’s 100-page report, Persichilli said.
Persichilli is asking for $500,000 in the upcoming budget, what she calls a mission-critical team, a group of workers, including infection control and prevention experts and educators, who will be on board before going into crisis mode. to a long-term care center.
She said her department continues to track the outbreak statewide and at nursing homes. More than 5,000 inspectors have visited long-term care facilities since mid-2020, she said.
As coronavirus cases began to spike in March 2020, MP Hal Worth (Republican, Sussex) said he could never forgive the state government for telling people not to leave their homes. I spoke.
“It is unforgivable to allow government agencies to lock us down like that. But I want to see if you think the last two years of lockdown was worth it.”Will we do it again? Past 2 Tell me what the people of New Jersey experienced during the year.”
Some COVID restrictions, such as mandatory masks in schools and capacity limits, remained in place until recently, but Murphy canceled the stay-at-home orders three months after issuing them.
“I am sitting here as Commissioner of Health and our mission at the Department of Health is to help the people of New Jersey live healthier, longer lives and reach their highest potential. We’ll make decisions based on that, and hopefully facilitate it. That’s the only answer I have,” Persichilli replied.
Rep. Nancy Munoz (Republican), a registered nurse who volunteered in hospitals and vaccine clinics during the pandemic, said the strict lockdowns would have “little to no impact on public health,” but would have enormous implications. Citing studies that claim to have imposed economic and social costs, data show masks are ineffective for children.
Munoz asked what health officials have learned from the first days of the pandemic.
Persichiri said while New Jersey was dealing with the first wave of COVID in 2020, officials didn’t know the virus was airborne. Also, she said on March 17, 2020, when COVID tests first became available, their use was limited to people with symptoms.
“Looking back on March and April, I hope that it will never be the same again. You can’t — because of vaccination, the way we deal with the surge is very different,” she said.
Another lesson learned, Persichilli said, is that “one size doesn’t fit all” and that future decisions will be made on a region-by-region basis with north, central and south jerseys. that there is a need.
Congressman Benji Wimberley (D-Passaic) asked the commissioner how the state is reaching out to Latino and Black residents who have not yet received the COVID vaccine. Latinos make up 20% of the population, but only 17% of the vaccinated population. Black residents, on the other hand, make up 13% of the population, but 9% of the vaccinated population.
By working with local health departments and faith-based organizations, Persichilli said, we can reach out to urban communities. The ministry also hopes to use some of the funds for its ambassador program to embed people in “hard-to-reach groups” and provide them with education and information about vaccines.
Rep. John McKeon (D-Essex) wondered why the state was keeping some vaccination sites open if people weren’t coming to get vaccinated.
More than 7.7 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine since the vaccine became available in December 2020, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. In addition, about 3.5 million people have received a booster vaccination.
Health authorities want the site to remain open, even if it is only open once a week, so that all residents can walk or drive to the immunization clinic within 15 minutes or less in 30 minutes. Yes, Persichilli said. Approximately 750,000 people are not within that distance of the site, she added.
Some MPs asked about staffing issues at both the Ministry of Health and hospitals. Persichilli did not disclose how many jobs were available in her department, but said more specialized clinical staff were needed.
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