NEW JERSEY – The Republican members of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee said repeated claims by New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at a budget hearing today that the Murphy administration has been transparent about pandemic response are demonstrably false. Further, they expressed shock that she refuses to admit that clearly outdated policies should be repealed to aid in New Jersey’s recovery.
“Mourning families, concerned legislators, and investigative journalists have all bemoaned the wall of secrecy that has been put up by the Murphy administration and the Department of Health about tragic policy decisions that led to the massive loss of life in our nursing homes,” said Senator Steven Oroho (R-24), the Senate Republican Budget Officer. “Commissioner Persichilli cannot claim to have been transparent when her department has systematically denied public records requests and she has refused invitations to testify before legislators and the public.”
The Department of Health, under Persichilli’s leadership, has repeatedly declined to respond to records requests issued under the Open Public Records Act by both legislators and journalists.
“During a time of crisis, it’s important that the public have faith that their leaders are telling them the full and honest truth,” Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) said. “The Murphy administration, however, has hidden behind expanded public health emergency exemptions that were never intended to limit transparency in this manner. Even today, we couldn’t get clear answers to basic questions, including what she could have done better. It’s shocking that after a year we still can’t get straight answers from the Murphy administration.”
The legislators noted that the commissioner refused an invitation to participate in an independent hearing where they sought to review Murphy administration policies that led to nearly 8,000 deaths and substantial hardship in New Jersey’s nursing homes, veterans homes, and long-term care (LTC) facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other participants, including facility residents, advocates, and family members were shocked and outraged that the commissioner refused to appear and answer questions about various directives ordered by her department, including the order to nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients.
“Despite what she said today, there has been no transparency from Commissioner Persichilli, the Department of Health, or the Murphy administration on the policies that led to thousands of deaths in our nursing and veterans homes,” Senator Michael Testa (R-1) said. “‘The woman who needs no introduction’ actually had the gall to tell us she was too busy to appear at the oversight hearing we invited her to attend, despite the hundreds of hours she spent sitting on stage at Governor Murphy’s press conferences over the past year. If she truly wants to be transparent, the commissioner should offer to return for a full legislative oversight hearing to review her pandemic response efforts. The public deserves answers and the truth.”
When asked to acknowledge that many current health restrictions are outdated, the commissioner refused to say they would be repealed.
“It is outrageous that the administration continues to hang onto the almost 2,000 pages of rules, regulations, and restrictions that simply no longer make sense,” Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) said. “The commissioner essentially said today that as long as there is any level of Covid, they will perpetuate the restrictions. Since Covid, likely at some very minor level, is endemic at this point, that means restrictions could go on forever. That is both demoralizing and ridiculous.”