NorthJersey.com reporter Scott Fallon provides on update after a seventh child died at a Wanaque health facility following an adenovirus outbreak.
North Jersey Record
Another child from a Wanaque long-term care facility died Tuesday night, the state Health Department confirmed Wednesday morning.
The child is the seventh to die this month from an outbreak of ad enovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, which treats severely debilitated and medically fragile children.
At a news conference at the facility on Wednesday evening, Gov. Phil Murphy said there were still many questions left unanswered over how the outbreak occured and how the facility communicated that to health officials, parents of patients and staff. “We clearly need to understand the communication here,” Murphy said.
The state Department of Health announced Tuesday that six patients had died at the long-term care facility and 12 others were sick with the virus.
The Wanaque Center has been barred from admitting new patients until the outbreak ends, the department said.
Health Department investigators returned to the facility Tuesday after a visit on Sunday, during which they found “minor handwashing deficiencies.” The state was notified of respiratory illnesses at the center in the Haskell section of the borough on Oct. 9. Most of the affected patients were under the age of 18, the Health Department said.
Scroll to the bottom of the story to read the facility inspection report from 2018.
Two unions that represent nurses and other healthcare workers at the for-profit facility criticized management and ownership for poor working conditions.
“Since new for-profit ownership took over at Wanaque Center in 2014, workers have expressed serious concerns over worsening staffing levels, lack of adequate supplies, and severe cutbacks to job standards,” said Ron McCalla, a vice president of 1199SEIU, which represents 136 workers at the facility.
Rowena Bautista, the center’s administrator, also did not respond to requests for comment. Staff members at the facility referred questions on Wednesday to Braithwaite Communications, a Philadelphia-based marketing agency whose services include crisis communication. The company did not respond to calls or emails.
The facility is owned by a private corporation, Wanaque Nursing & Rehabilitation, whose officers are listed as Daniel Bruckstein and Eugene Ehrenfeld. The two are listed as officers in seven other care facilities across New Jersey. Neither could be reached for comment.
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, who heads the Senate Health Committee, said he has spoken with Elnahal, the state health commissioner, about the incident and the commissioner had assured him that he is taking appropriate action.
“I’m confident that he’s trying to get to the bottom of the facts and find out what happened and how we can prevent this,” Vitale said. “When you have so many deaths in such a short time, there was potentially a breakdown in infection-control protocols.”
Vitale, a Middlesex County Democrat, said that he urged had Elnahal to review those protocols in the state’s other facilities for people with immune deficiencies, and that the health commissioner had agreed. Vitale said he has no plans to introduce legislation or hold hearings at this point.
State Sen. Gerry Cardinale, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi and Assemblyman Robert Auth, who represent the area where the facility is located, said state officials need to ensure that something like this never happens again.
“This deadly viral outbreak was clearly a preventable tragedy, and state officials must take immediate action to deliver justice to the families who are being forced to reckon with every parent’s worst nightmare — the loss of a child,” the three Republicans said in a statement.
On Wednesday morning, the facility’s parking lot was full and a lone Wanaque patrol car was at the scene. No visitors, staff members or patients could be seen outside the building. Backed by power lines and sheltered by trees, the site is relatively isolated from its busy surroundings on Ringwood Avenue near a Route 287 exit.
Adenoviruses are common viruses that affect the lining of the airways, intestines, eyes or urinary tract and are responsible for some colds, coughs, sore throats, pinkeye and diarrhea. Usually the illnesses are mild, but they can be deadly in people with weakened immune systems.
Those who live or work near the center expressed sympathy for the families of the children. “It’s a shame,” said Mike Borer of Westwood, who was interviewed at a strip mall on Ringwood Avenue near the center. “They’re just starting their lives.”
Government inspectors have cited the facility for a number of deficiencies in recent years including instances of poor patient care and unsanitary practices by government inspectors.
An inspection in August, posted below, found instances of unsanitary practices that could lead to the spread of infection.
In one instance cited in the report, a nurse picked a pill off the floor and did not wash her hands before preparing to administer more medication. In another, a patient’s urinary drainage bag had a hole in it, and urine was collecting in a receptacle. A nurse told an inspector that “it happened frequently, supplies were not the best and a break in the closed urinary drainage system could lead to a potential infection”
The report also said the facility failed “failed to provide a clean and homelike physical environment for their residents” when an inspector smelled a strong odor of mildew in a patient sleeping area.
Several staff members did not correctly address the needs of patients, many of whom are so badly debilitated they could not communicate, according to the report.
Staff Writers Steve Janoski, Josh Jongsma, Dustin Racioppi and James Nash contributed to this story.
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