Members of the National Guard will be deployed to Sussex County long-term care facilities amid a recent surge in COVID-infected residents and staff, the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners said in a release Wednesday. The news comes as the former Andover Subacute II facility reports a large outbreak, marking the highest numbers among the state's nursing and care facilities.
"The staff at these facilities have been particularly hard hit by the latest COVID variant,” said Anthony Fasano, commissioner deputy director, referring to the highly transmissible omicron variant. “We believed it was prudent to get them the help they needed before there was a crisis.”
The names of the facilities receiving help in Sussex County were expected to be released during the commissioners' reorganization Wednesday evening, the board's confidential secretary told the Herald. But it is likely Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center, formerly Andover Subacute II, will be at the forefront of discussions.
The Sussex County nursing home was ravaged by the pandemic in spring 2020 and ridiculed for its handling of those who died in its care after 17 bodies were discovered in a makeshift morgue. Soldiers with the National Guard were deployed to the facility in May 2020 to help curb the crisis.
Although it appeared numbers were dropping at the end of last summer at the multi-unit complex for those with cognitive impairments, the facility has been in continuous outbreak status since late September, according to data from the Sussex County Division of Health.
And those numbers continue to surge, with data released Monday by the New Jersey Department of Health showing that 169 residents and 101 staff members are infected with the virus.
But despite the uptick in cases, Woodland is following guidance from national and state health agencies, co-owner Chaim "Mutty" Scheinbaum told the New Jersey Herald this week.
Precautionary recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Jersey Department of Health are being followed at the facility, equipped for 543 residents, Scheinbaum said.
And those who test positive are being housed in "designated COVID units," Scheinbaum added.
But not much more is known about how the facility is operating, with Scheinbaum declining to release any more information, including whether new residents are being admitted into the facility as the cases continue to rise.
In addition, state data shows that while 94% of Sussex County's long-term care residents of nine facilities are fully vaccinated, only 82.5% are fully vaccinated at Woodland Behavioral — the lowest among all facilities. Among staff, 64.5% are fully vaccinated and none have received a COVID-19 booster shot, the data shows.
Scheinbaum said unvaccinated staff members must follow state and national guidelines.
Statewide, more than 4,300 residents of long-term care facilities have tested positive among 419 active outbreaks in nursing homes and other residential care complexes. The number of residents testing positive has more than doubled since Dec. 30, state data shows.
In Sussex County, the state data shows outbreaks in six long-term care facilities as of Jan. 3, including Woodland and its counterpart, Limecrest Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, formerly Andover Subacute I. Limecrest has a "new" outbreak with 14 residents and 12 staff members infected.
The National Guard soldiers who will be deployed to Sussex County will assist staff with maintaining infection control protocols and other duties, the commissioners' release says.
The decision to the deploy the Guard came after discussions among county health officials, led by the commissioners, state health officials and long-term care facility operators and staff.
“The state agreed to deploy the National Guard and the nursing home operators agreed to take the offered assistance,” Fasano said, adding that he would like to thank all involved in the effort.
Herb Yardley, Sussex's former health officer and administrator, noted that the county has been monitoring the nursing homes "closely since the carnage and death suffered during the pandemic's first wave."
The commissioners continue to seek answers from the state pertaining to the investigation into the deaths at the former Andover Subacute and other state nursing homes.
The Sussex County Division of Health reported 555 new coronavirus cases in its daily release on Wednesday, bringing the total cases in the county since the pandemic began to 27,776. Eight deaths have been reported since the new year, with a total of 377.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: NJ COVID surge: National Guard to help Sussex long-term facilities