New Jersey to pay millions to 119 families in settlement over COVID-19 deaths at veterans homes
The state of New Jersey is paying a total of $52.9 million to 119 families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at state-run veterans homes in Edison and Paramus. But that may not be the end of its liability.
Regina Discenza’s father, Charlie Costantino, died during a massive COVID outbreak at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park. Nearly two years later, she’s still angry over what she considers gross negligence.
“Every day there was a different story coming out of the home,” Discenza says. “I couldn't even get the phone answered most of the time and when I was told something about my parents, it was a lie.”
In April 2020, Kane In Your Corner exposed a disturbing lack of infection control at the Menlo Park facility. Among the findings were sick and healthy patients housed together, rooms improperly cleaned, and at a time when handwashing was critical, restrooms without soap. Perhaps the most egregious issue is that staff members said they were ordered not to wear masks or gloves.
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“They said ‘Don’t wear masks around the patients, you’ll make them uncomfortable’,” said one nurse, who asked to be anonymous due to fear of retaliation. “So instead, we put everyone’s safety at risk.”
In a settlement announced late last month, the Murphy administration agreed to pay $52.9 million to settle lawsuits by 119 of the more than 200 families whose loved ones died. That works out to an average of $445,000 per family. But Discenza says this was never about money.
“There’s no amount of money that could compensate for the manner in which my parents died, alone and afraid,” she says.
Attorney Paul da Costa, who represents 72 of the 119 families, says the settlement “gives lost loved ones a voice that they otherwise would not have had.”
But the settlement won’t get the state completely off the hook. The veterans homes are under investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the United States Department of Justice. And since the deal became public, Kane In Your Corner has learned dozens of additional families have come forward, seeking justice for their loved ones.
“We're still evaluating what, if anything, can be done for those families,” says Discenza’s attorney, Frank Rodriguez. “Time may not have run out for them. But certainly, later this year, time will run out so there’s only a small window to do anything.”
A spokesperson for the Murphy administration declined to comment on the initial settlement or what might happen next.