FILE - NJ nursing home, seniors, covid 5-8-2020

Mary Mack (right), a resident of senior housing, is tested for coronavirus infection May 8, 2020, in Paterson, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Wednesday creating a task force on long-term care quality and safety, but one Republican senator says more investigation is needed as to why more than 7,000 residents of New Jersey’s long-term care residents died from COVID-19.

The New Jersey Task Force on Long-Term Care Quality and Safety will study staffing shortages, emergency preparedness and expansion of into home and community-based care settings.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio has called for a Senate Select Committee to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths in long-term care facilities and veterans homes. Despite promises from the Senate president, the committee has never been approved, he said.

“This administration has not been forthcoming when it comes to telling us exactly what they did and why the did it and sharing with us the data and the science behind it,” Pennacchio said in an interview with The Center Square. “If you look at New Jersey, one out of every 10 long-term nursing facility residents died. It’s crazy? No investigation? A whitewash? They pay half a million dollars to this company to tell us what we already knew?”

The state commissioned Manatt Health on a report outlining the response to COVID-19 in its long-term care facilities. The report, released in June, made 36 recommendations to the Department of Health. The department has met 24 of them and 11 are in progress, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday.

“We plan to bring in a team of experts to provide data-driven recommendations to the industry generally and then to provide expert consultations to specific long-term care facilities,” Persichilli said.

The problems in the state’s long-term care facilities and veterans homes were already there before COVID-19, said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee in a statement.

“Many nursing and veterans homes in New Jersey have been cited for inadequate infection control policies, and few had consistent direct communication with hospitals and health departments before the pandemic” Vainieri Huttle said. “The system as a whole needs to be reformed.”

The Task Force will have 21 members. Murphy, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker will appoint six members, which could include people from the nursing home industry, families of patients and consumer rights advocates and experts on aging. The Health Department commissioner, Human Services Department commissioner and the New Jersey long-term care ombudsman will serve on the committee as ex officio members.

The Task Force will issue a report no later than one year after it is formed, according to the law.

Murphy signed three other bills relating to long-term care into law Wednesday:

• A4476/S2790 creates a Long Term Care Emergency Operations Center to respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

• A4482/S2758 raises the minimum wage for direct care workers by $3 an hour in long-term care facilities and commissioner a study on nursing home care rates.

• A4547/S2813 allocates $63 million to temporarily adjust rates to nursing homes to cover expenses related to COVID-19.