TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Rebuffed by the Democrats who control the Legislature, New Jersey Republican lawmakers Friday conducted their own hearing on Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's management of the coronavirus pandemic, questioning his administration's handling of the virus in nursing homes.
The committee met for the first time Friday remotely with testimony from a doctor, nursing home administrators, veterans homes residents and others.
Lawmakers focused in part on New Jersey's March 31, 2020, health department directive requiring nursing homes not to turn away COVID-19-positive patients. The policy made headlines because of news that New York released 9,000 previously uncounted virus patients into facilities under a similar policy.
New Jersey's policy hasn't been linked to a similar figure, but the legislators questioned if there could be deaths connected to the policy because the administration hasn't given a full accounting of its handling of the pandemic.
Indeed, lawmakers seemed left with more questions than answers Friday.
In part, that's because Murphy's administration declined to make health department officials available. Democratic lawmakers also did not join them to form a select committee with subpoena power that could compel Murphy administration officials to testify at the hearing.
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"We're not going to get the answers that we're entitled to," state Sen. Kristin Corrado said. "They owe the victims and their families an answer."
The hearing comes as New Jersey ramps up for an election this November when all 120 legislators and the governor will be on the ballot.
In a statement Friday, Murphy spokesperson Alyana Alfaro criticized the hearing calling it a "nakedly political election year stunt" in an emailed statement.
Murphy was asked about the GOP-led committee earlier this week and said he didn't "begrudge anyone's right to assess what's going on." He also said the state "got clobbered" in long-term care facilities and attributed it to parts of the state being close to New York.
Murphy also alluded to the March 31 directive and noted that while nursing homes were not to turn COVID-19 patients away from such facilities, they were also required to separate residents who were positive.
Murphy's administration rescinded its nursing home policy on April 12, about a month before New York.
Among the most emotional testimonies came from Glenn Osborne, a resident at New Jersey's Menlo Park veterans home. Osborne said staff and residents lacked masks and other protective equipment during the onset of the pandemic. He also said pleas for help and answers fell on mostly deaf ears.
New Jersey's COVID-19 death toll stands at 21,094, with 7,923 of those attributed to residents and staff at long-term care facilities. The vast majority of the deaths at facilities were residents, not staff, according to state health department figures. New Jersey's three state-operated veterans homes had 155 deaths.
GOP lawmakers expect to hold a series of similar hearings.