Backup of bodies overwhelms nursing home amid outbreak

Andover Township Police Department Chief Eric Danielson briefs the media at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Andover Township, N.J., on Thursday April 16, 2020. Police responding to an anonymous tip found more than a dozen bodies Sunday and Monday at the nursing home in northwestern New Jersey, according to news reports. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
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An extraordinary number of coronavirus-related deaths appears to have overwhelmed a nursing home in northern New Jersey where police found 18 bodies in what the governor called a “makeshift morgue” on two consecutive days earlier this week.

Police got an anonymous tip Monday that a body was being stored outside the home, Andover Township Police Chief Eric Danielson said Thursday.

When police arrived, he said, the body wasn’t where the tipster had said it was — but they found 13 bodies inside. They were removed Monday night and taken to a hospital in a refrigerated truck.

The New Jersey Herald first reported the finding of the bodies, which followed the discovery of five bodies at the home Sunday after complaints from staff and family members to law enforcement.

The remains found at the facility are among 68 deaths linked to the home, including residents and two nurses, The New York Times reported, citing Danielson, other officials and county records shared with a federal official. At least 26 of those deaths were confirmed by laboratory tests to be related to COVID-19, the newspaper said.

Staffing was adequate, but an extraordinary number of deaths over the weekend had overwhelmed the facility’s resources, a co-owner of the home said in an email Thursday.

“The back up and after hours holiday weekend issues, plus more than average deaths, contributed to the presence of more deceased than normal in the facility holding room,” nursing home co-owner Chaim Scheinbaum wrote.

The area used to house deceased residents until they can be picked up by a funeral home has a normal capacity of four, “with a maximum of 12,” Scheinbaum wrote.

Staffing at the facility is “solid” with 12 nurses, one more than normal, and 39 nursing assistants, one fewer than normal, Scheinbaum wrote.

Police released a photo of a box truck parked outside the home that was being used to store the bodies after a hazmat team removed them.

More than 100 residents and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the Times reported.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat whose district covers Andover Township, said he was notified over the weekend that the facility was “desperate for body bags.” He said he had received calls and emails from concerned relatives.

“One of my concerns is that these facilities are not communicating in real time,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing from families. That’s outrageous, it’s completely unacceptable that they have to call me for updates.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said at a news briefing Thursday that “several individuals” had died at the Andover nursing home and that he has asked the state attorney general to look into what happened there, as well as at any other nursing homes that have had many deaths.

The Democratic governor said he was “outraged that bodies of the dead were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue at the facility. New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity.”

The coronavirus has spread quickly through nursing homes around the country, leading to pressure on federal health officials to publicly track COVID-19 infections and deaths. In New Jersey, 471 residents of long-term care facilities had died through Wednesday, and 358 of the state’s 375 facilities have reported positive cases, according to state health officials.

Since last month, the state has banned visitation, ordered universal masking and required that all facilities notify residents, family and staff of any outbreaks.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said this week that 123 long-term care facilities have been prohibited from admitting patients because they haven’t demonstrated they can effectively segregate COVID-19-infected residents from those who aren’t infected.

In the past week, Persichilli said, the state had distributed more than 100,000 N95 masks, nearly 700,000 surgical masks, 7,000 face shields and more than 700,000 gloves to long-term facilities.