ANDOVER TOWNSHIP — Another Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation employee, who is out ill after a diagnosis with COVID-19, has stepped forward to tell their story, which echoes previous stories of their colleagues.
The member of the medical staff from Subacute II is recovering and under self-quarantine, after having tested positive for both COVID-19 and parainfluenza. Their life at home has been turned upside down, with other family members having to temporarily leave; and after the employee fully recovers, they plan to hire a professional decontamination company to sanitize their residence, before reintegrating their family.
Speaking to the New Jersey Herald on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their job, this employee said personal protective equipment or PPE was placed under “lock and key” by administrators, including those they knew were donations delivered by the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office.
According to a representative of the New Jersey Department of Health, PPE and other supplies sent to Sussex County’s Office of Emergency Management were provided in two separate shipments, one the week of April 6 and the other April 13. For Subacute I, the state provided 12 cases of dry shampoo, 3,000 gloves, 18 gowns, 66 hand sanitizers, 240 N-95 masks and 600 surgical masks. For Subacute II, the state reported it sent 7,000 gloves, 12 cases of dry shampoo, 38 gowns, 66 hand sanitizers, 1,200 N-95 masks and 2,600 surgical masks.
Sussex County Deputy OEM Bob Haffner said the state’s deliveries of the PPE for the Subacute facilities were taken to the Subacute facilities by OEM, with the first dropped the week of April 13 and the second delivery dropped off on Monday. PPE distribution to staff and residents, since the end of the week of April 13, has now been handled by the Andover Township Police Department, both Haffner and Andover Township Mayor Michael Lensak said. In a previous interview with the New Jersey Herald, Lensak said after hearing PPE was not distributed to staff or residents during the previous deliveries, the police department intervened. Haffner, in a phone interview, said Sussex County OEM made a separate PPE delivery from the state, to the subacute facilities. The county made deliveries at the end of March and beginning of April to the Subacute facilities, Haffner said, when OEM dropped off donated PPE and PPE that the County of Sussex had purchased. With deliveries made prior to the week of April 13, Haffner said, the county was unaware of the difficulties staff said they endured with PPE distribution. Similar deliveries, Haffner said, have been made to other longterm care facilities within the county.
However, this employee and other employees in both buildings previously interviewed, have accused administrators of hoarding PPE and not distributing it properly to staff who needed it. One employee from Subacute I said members of the medical team were initially given no PPE and supplied their own as able. The Subacute I employees were instructed to use paper surgical masks for three days straight, they said, cleaning them with alcohol; and N-95 masks for a week straight, sprayed down with Lysol.
The latest employee to step forward also said staff was threatened with termination for not working in the COVID wing, received no information about ill residents and staff; and when they were provided with information, the numbers were downplayed by administration. Additionally, the employee said, staff was never trained how to swab residents suspected of having the virus, with the infection control nurse, equipped with the proper PPE, refusing to administer the COVID swab tests.
The employee also said Subacute II recreation employees were provided with hand sanitizer, while medical staff had no access, even with the facility on lockdown since early March with a flu outbreak. The employee said each nurse cares for an average of 57 residents per floor, calling it “humanly impossible to wash hands 57 times” during the multiple rounds and interactions made with each resident per shift.
“I am so angry at Andover Subacute, this didn’t have to happen,” the employee stated in a phone interview on Monday.
Fed up with the lack of PPE, the employee said a group of medical staffers from all three floors converged recently on Subacute II Administrator Cynthia Bradford’s office and demanded PPE. Bradford reportedly summoned the employee who handles supplies, who in turn, reportedly yelled at the staff.
Bradford did not respond to an email request for comment prior to deadline.
One of the facility’s owners, Chaim Scheinbaum of Alliance Healthcare, who stated in another interview he was unaware of PPE under lockdown, responded by email Monday that he has since forwarded questions to his attorney, Christopher Porrino of Lowenstein Sandler LLP. Porrino has not responded to emailed requests for comment sent to him on Monday.
A representative of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 312, the union that represents nurses, CNAs, housekeepers and recreation employees within the facilities, did not respond prior to deadline about the latest allegations. However, Local 312 Business Agent Michael Russo had confirmed in a previous phone interview with the New Jersey Herald, he intervened for employees after they reported to him about the lack of PPE and termination threats.
Union President Robert LaSalle, in a recent letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, asked Murphy to direct State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli to investigate the allegations and for the state to “subsequently take over this facility immediately.”
“Our hardworking members should not have to tolerate a negligent work environment, as they put their own lives and the lives of their families at risk daily,” LaSalle said.
Local 312’s representative additionally did not respond if Murphy replied to the letter.
The COVID-19-positive employee said the Subacute staff has repeatedly been short-staffed, even prior to the COVID-19 issues; and are unable to effectively implement basic medical checks on the residents, including skin assessments and wound care.
“These residents are defenseless and so are the staff behind them,” the employee said.
Job applicant never warned
Additionally, a job seeker, who had a job interview scheduled, has reported they were never told by the Subacute facilities of the coronavirus outbreak before their scheduled in-person interview within Subacute I.
An applicant for a housekeeping position within one of the facilities, Cara McManus of Hamburg, said she was not warned about the outbreak, before she was scheduled for an onsite interview at Subacute I on April 16. After learning of the issues within the Subacute facilities in a New Jersey Herald article, McManus said she cancelled her interview.
“Nothing was ever mentioned to me,” McManus said. “How could I walk into a building and risk my life for $12 per hour?” she asked.
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.