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N.J. Nursing Home Fined $600,000 After 11 Children With Disabilities Died During a Viral Outbreak

On Monday, Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, New Jersey, was fined $600,000 after 11 children died and 36 became sick during a viral outbreak in fall 2018 after federal inspectors found widespread substandard care at the facility. Wanaque Center is home to more than 50 children with disabilities and medical conditions that require ventilators, in addition to 150 other vulnerable children and seniors.

In September 2018, the facility had an adenovirus outbreak, a virus typically marked by cold and flu-like symptoms. In this case, according to NorthJersey.com, the adenovirus strain was particularly difficult to treat and proved deadly to Wanaque Center’s residents who were not given proper care during the outbreak, according to a federal report. The first child died on Oct. 9, 2018. An additional 10 children died from the adenovirus outbreak by mid-November.

According to NorthJersey.com, federal investigators from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which oversees nursing facilities, found “lapses in hand-washing and infection control, substandard care, a lack of involvement by the medical director, and poor oversight by the facility’s administration.” They also noted that the virus proved deadly due to a “failure to provide timely interventions and care.” This led to the $600,000 fine, which advocates say is “meaningful” in the state.

Speaking with NJ.com anonymously, Wanaque Center nurses working at the center were told to delay sending sick children to the hospital for days after they spiked high fevers in excess of 103 or 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Children were treated with antibiotics that often didn’t work while the facility turned up the air conditioning and administered Tylenol and Motrin to try and bring their fevers down instead of immediately sending them to the hospital.

Those who were sent to the hospital went after a week of high fevers. Several died within hours of their arrival at the hospital. Others, according to NorthJersey.com, came back from the hospital with a new tracheostomy to improve breathing as a result of the delay in getting proper treatment. These claims were also reported in the federal investigator’s report, though Andrew P. Aronson, an attorney for Wanaque, told investigators the child was expected to get a tracheostomy before contracting the virus.

The anonymous employees told NJ.com the facility allegedly wanted to keep the beds full so Wanaque Center could keep collecting the Medicaid money. Sending a child to the hospital meant an empty bed and a loss of funds.

“It’s been known for a while that they try to keep the kids there and treat the kids there as long as possible before having to send them out to a hospital … so they have the bed full,” one of the pediatric unit nurses said.

The facility’s medical director, Maged Ghaly, came under fire in the federal report. He told investigators he thought the New Jersey Department of Health was overreacting to the viral outbreak when it first happened. It wasn’t until a fourth child had died he admitted there was a problem.

“I said how is it going to spread? That was in October,” Ghaly told investigators. “I knew we had a problem after the fourth death.”

Wanaque Center strongly objected to the federal investigators’ findings and the fine, and said it will appeal the decision. Wanaque’s attorney Aronson wrote a letter in response to the report, claiming the findings were “fundamentally inaccurate, riddled with factual inaccuracies … and sensational accusatory conclusions that lack any support whatsoever.”

In support of Wanaque, Dr. Edward J. McManus, an infectious disease specialist told federal investigators the outbreak was “unavoidable” because all the children in the center were exposed to the virus.

A spokesperson from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told NorthJersey.com it “stands behind the findings” in the report, which are based partly from a visit to Wanaque Center during the height of the viral outbreak along with other documents and interviews with all parties involved.

“We will continue to demand accountability from facilities that fail to meet the fundamental health and safety needs of the patients and residents they serve,” the spokesperson said.

Header image via Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation’s Facebook page.