At hearing, NJ lawmakers look for answers on lethal virus outbreak in Wanaque children’s hospital

Source: NJTV News

While emotional parents sat before a New Jersey Senate committee holding photos of six children who contracted the adenovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, attorney Paul De Costa said: “One of the common threads in all my clients situations is the fact that Wanaque Center did not timely and appropriately communicate with them regarding the adenovirus outbreak.”

One former Wanaque staffer testified that the center delayed sending sick kids to the hospital so it could keep beds filled and continue receiving Medicaid money — about $518 per child per day — because New Jersey doesn’t pay for empty beds. Nurses from the center also alleged it’s understaffed, needs more oversight and wasn’t ready to respond to the crisis.

“These patients are at high risk for infections so there are additional precautions the Wanaque should have taken to protect these children. It seems to us they didn’t have a plan,” said Debbie White, president of Local 5107 of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees Union.

Lawmakers expressed their outrage before the state Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal told senators that he wanted to isolate the sick children at Wanaque immediately, but the facility lacked enough space. No further infections occurred after the sick and exposed children were separated in mid-November, he noted.

Elnahal himself wasn’t informed of the outbreak until 10 days after the state was notified Oct. 9, and he’s ordered that rule to change. Another hearing could be scheduled, pending a full report from the health commissioner.

The Wanaque Center’s administrator issued a statement saying in part that any allegations financial concerns took precedence over medical judgement are quote, “categorically false,” adding a public hearing was not the appropriate forum to provide information on patients or their care.

Senators expressed displeasure that no one from the company that runs Wanaque, Continuum Healthcare, responded to their invitation to testify. “And if they refuse again, I think we should seek subpoena power from the full Senate and drag their butts in here,” said state senator Sen. Dick Codey.

The state has ordered Wanaque not to admit any more patients until the outbreak is over. Several parents whose children recovered said they don’t want them going back.

“Every parent of every patient deserves to know that their child will be safe when entrusted to a pediatric hospital, and that we’re going to force those facilities to develop plans that provide that assurance,” said Sen. Gerry Cardinale.

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