MORRIS COUNTY — Senator Joe Pennacchio today said more serious questions have been raised at the New Jersey Department of Health and “the lack of leadership has been glaring at the highest levels of state government during the COVID crisis.”
Pennacchio’s comments come after a published report of heated arguments between the health commissioner and high-level staffers on the Governor’s team, and an attempt to sign a $500,000 contract with a politically-connected consultant firm for four weeks of work with nursing homes.
“These are serious issues – 6,000 souls died in state-regulated nursing homes,” said Pennacchio (R-26). “The state forced the virus into these long-term nursing facilities while keeping their loved ones out. A pandemic is devastating the state economy and has killed 12,000 state residents, half of the seniors in long-term care.
“Leadership is most evident in the midst of a crisis, and the pandemic has exposed damning weaknesses at upper levels of the state’s chain of command,” Pennacchio said. “The very people New Jerseyans relied on to keep them safe have repeatedly shown they were overwhelmed and under-qualified.”
A day earlier, another story reported the termination of the assistant commissioner of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories & Emergency Preparedness who oversaw emergency medical services and the state office of disaster resilience within the Department of Health.
Christopher Neuwirth claimed in a Facebook post that he “was blatantly scapegoated and fired.”
“These issues, coupled with the loss of 6,000 residents in nursing homes that were forgotten by the Administration and abandoned by state inspectors, demand answers,” said Pennacchio.
“The problems may have been worse than we imagined. The Senate should immediately convene a special committee with subpoena power to investigate the pandemic response and get to the bottom of this mess. If these were traffic issues on the George Washington Bridge, subpoenas would already have been issued,” concluded Pennacchio.