May 2020 was a deadly month at the Care One at King James long term care facility in Middletown.
On May 1 there were no positive cases of COVID-19 reported at the facility. By June 1, there was 90 positive cases reported among the facility’s 100 residents and 44 of the 154 staff members tested positive. 17 residents died, according to documents obtained by MMM.
The Middletown Board of Health caught the outbreak early at the nursing home five miles from Governor Phil Murphy’s home. Richard DeBenedetto, Director, sounded multiple alarms to the New Jersey Department of Health. DeBenedetto requested inspections by the State to determine proper procedure in the facility and an adequate supply of PPE. He requested National Guard troops be brought in to support the staff in addressing the outbreak. His request was punted and ultimately ignored.
At first DeBenedetto’s pleas were apparently ignored. Then he was told to call at 24 hour hotline set up by the NJ Department of Health. Eventually he was told to handle the outbreak himself with the facility’s management, despite the fact that local departments of health and Emergency Management agencies were instructed early on during the pandemic to stand down and refer all enforcement matters to the State.
On May 1, two CareOne at King James residents were hospitalized for non-COVID-19 procedures, according to a May 21 memo from DeBenedetto to Middletown Mayor Tony Perry. Both of those patients tested positive for the virus at the hospital. Theretofore, the facility was reporting zero COVID-19 cases.
On May 8, there were 16 positive cases reported at CareOne King James. DeBenedetto spoke with Eric Adler, a regional epidemiologist with the NJ Department of Health. DeBenedetto was concerned about the rapidly increasing cases spirally out of control. DeBenedetto recommended intervention by the State Department of Licensure or the National Guard. Adler said, according to DeBenedetto’s memo, that CareOne appeared to be reporting accurately, that other facilities were also getting hit hard, and that monitoring would continue.
On Sunday, May 10 and again on Monday, May 11, the Middleetown Board of Health Director expressed his alarm to Adler, the regional State epidemiologist. Adler advised DeBenedetto of call the LTC 24 hotline and to send him an email that would be forwarded up the line to escalate the alarm.
In response to his call to the hotline, DeBenedetto received a voice mail message stating that he should be handling the situation as a local authority and that he should work with CareOne King James management on communicable disease control.
“Obviously they did not understand my complaint and I called them back,” DeBenedetto wrote in his email to Mayor Perry. “They again reiterated that is a communicable disease issue and not something they would handle.”
DeBenedetto said he repeated his request for an inspection on procedure and PPE. He received no response.
This is a developing story.Middletown-BOH-memo-052120