Nils Lofgren, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and Lofgren's wife, Amy, are promoting a bill in the New Jersey Senate that would require infection control plans for nursing homes, which were the site of thousands of deaths last year during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lofgren’s mother-in-law, Patricia Landers, who suffers from dementia, was able to escape from Brookdale at Florham Park, an assisted living facility, four times last year, according to her family. In one instance during the height of the pandemic, she was found several miles away after the facility did not call police for 39 minutes. Landers tested positive for COVID but has recovered and is now living in another senior facility.
“The ordeal which we went through last year with our mom at Brookdale Senior Living is every child’s worst nightmare,” the Lofgrens said in a statement provided to The Record and NorthJersey.com.
The statement was submitted to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee in advance of a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, the proposed bill would require the state Department of Health to develop a statewide infection control plan for nursing homes, and to examine ways to make improvements to facilities.
More than 6,800 people died in New Jersey nursing homes during the first wave of the pandemic last year, and a state grand jury has been convened to investigate state-run veterans homes where more than 200 people died at three facilities, in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland.
Reporting by The Record and NorthJersey.com has shown that COVID-19 ran rampant through the Paramus home because of lax infection control — including such practices as allowing dementia patients to congregate through late April. Internal emails showed that managers barred staff members from wearing masks in the first month of the pandemic and devised penalties for violating that policy with help from Gov. Phil Murphy's office.
The proposed legislation would require state health officials to take specific steps, such as reviewing the availability of single-resident rooms and the potential of homes to expand their use; surveying heating and air conditioning system maintenance; and studying the use of negative pressure rooms and other ways to control the spread of infections.
The state Health Department would be required to request recommendations from a statewide task force looking into long-term care facilities and to “establish specific goals and timelines for improvements” in consultation with nursing home industry representatives.
Landers’ family spoke to The Record and NorthJersey.com last year after their attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, filed a lawsuit against Brookdale Florham Park and its parent company, Brookdale Senior Living of Tennessee, one of the largest operators of long-term senior living facilities in the nation. The suit alleged that the home didn’t provide the level of care it promised for residents with dementia. Brookdale officials did not comment at the time, citing the pending litigation.
The suit was filed in state court in Morris County but is now being heard in federal court where a judge on Thursday denied Brookdale's request to force the matter into arbitration, according to court documents.
Miltenberg said Brookdale's attempt was "frustrating" and designed to keep information related to the complaint "from being publicly viewable" by moving it out of the courts. Brookdale Senior Living officials did not immediately respond to a request for information about the suit.
Police reports show Landers walked out a door at 11:58 p.m. on April 8, 2020, causing an alarm to sound. Police said they were called at 12:37 a.m. Police and family members began a search that ended at 4 a.m. when Landers, wearing a bathrobe and bruised from falling, was found in nearby Madison. A week later she was transported to a hospital where the family was told she tested positive for COVID-19.
The Lofgrens said in their statement that they were afraid Landers, who developed pneumonia while at the hospital, was going to die. They later moved her to another facility — CareOne in Livingston — where they said “the care is markedly improved.”
“Not every New Jersey senior in an inadequate nursing home has been so lucky,” they said in the statement. “So many have died during this pandemic due to a lack of infection control and oversight, poor staffing and meager standards.”
Abbott Koloff is an investigative reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his watchdog work that safeguards our communities and democracy, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.