New Jersey veterans home managers planned to penalize staff for wearing masks as COVID-19 spread, emails show


WOODLAND PARK, N.J. – Managers at New Jersey's veterans homes not only barred employees from wearing protective masks during the first weeks of the outbreak, they devised a series of penalties with the help of Gov. Phil Murphy's office against nurses who wore the homes’ masks without permission. 

More than 190 residents have died from COVID-19 in the state's veterans homes.

Emails obtained by The Record and, part of the USA TODAY Network, show that at least one worker had to return home because management wouldn't let him wear a mask – even though he had a doctor's note saying he suffered from asthma.

Managers at New Jersey's Paramus and Menlo Park homes were so opposed to mask-wearing at the start of the pandemic that they pushed back against letting outside vendors and ambulance crews wear them at the veterans homes as they transported residents, the emails show.

“If they had done just the bare minimum, they could have saved lives,” Tony Agosto, CEO of Virgo Medical Services, told The Record and Agosto had fought to have his ambulance workers wear masks while in the Menlo Park home.

“They could have stopped a lot of this,” he said.

Murphy’s employee relations unit advised management in late March about setting up disciplinary procedures against nurses and aides who tried to use the homes’ supply of masks without permission.

The advice came just days before Murphy’s health commissioner ordered all nursing home staff in facilities statewide to wear masks.

Michael Zhadanovsky, a Murphy spokesman, said in a statement that the homes’ inventory of personal protective equipment, such as masks, “was strained in March and painstaking steps were taken to ensure its proper usage.”


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