Federal officials have issued a quarter million dollars in fines after finding troubling conditions that put patients' lives in grave danger at a Sussex County nursing home where last month bodies of dead residents were piling up.

The Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center made headlines in April after police had to remove 17 bodies that had been stuffed into a makeshift morgue. The discovery prompted a criminal investigation of the facility.

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Half of the state's COVID-19 deaths have been associated with long-term care facilities. Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday said he is sending 120 members of the National Guard this weekend to the nursing homes. The Andover facility will get 22 guardsmen on Friday.

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, on Thursday said the state's latest actions addressing nursing homes may be too late.

"It now appears that the closing of schools, religious intuitions, and many businesses had little effect in allaying the contagion among our nursing care facilities," Pennacchio said, faulting the state Health Department's March 31 order mandating that long-term care facilities accept COVID-19 patients without first making sure that the facilities had enough testing and personal protective equipment.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which inspects nursing homes, said in its most recent report that the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation II facility failed to follow proper infection control and that its non-compliance "has caused, or was likely to cause, serious injury, harm impairment or death to residents.”

As of Wednesday, the facility had reported 53 deaths tied to the virus and 184 cases of COVID-19. Its sister building has reported 13 deaths and 52 cases.

Only the Menlo Park Memorial Veterans Home in Edison has had more deaths – 54.

Mutty Scheinbaum, who owns and operates both Andover facilities, said in a statement to The Associated Press that the facilities have implemented protocols to combat the spread of the virus.

“The review of Andover Subacute I concluded that the facility was in compliance with applicable guidelines. (Federal authorities) noted areas of improvement for Andover Subacute II, but determined that the facility’s remediation plan was acceptable as fatalities continue to drop at the facility,” Scheinbaum said.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, said he was "absolutely disgusted and heartbroken for the residents, staff and families" after reading the inspection report.

"We will not beat this virus and flatten the curve if the coronavirus is able to continue to spread like wildfire in our long-term care facilities,” he said.

Gottheimer had demanded that state and federal officials examine this and other nursing homes and he said he's been working with local authorities to get more personal protective equipment to the staff.

The inspection report faulted the facility for keeping patients with COVID-19 symptoms in rooms with asymptomatic patients.

In one case, a patient died on April 11, a day after being found on the floor after slipping near the bed. The inspection report said that the doctor claimed to have not been told about the patient's flu-like symptoms and a fever that had lasted for days. The physician's notes said the patient likely had COVID-19, the inspection report said.

Another patient who died last month had a fever of 104.9 two days before dying but no temperature was recorded a day before the death. The inspection also found no evidence of COVID-19 monitoring for that patient.

Inspectors could find no evidence of follow-up care for several patients who had fevers and they reported that there was insufficient usage of personal protective equipment by staff.


(Includes material Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.)

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