NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – It has been close to six months since Sussex County Counsel Kevin D. Kelly, Esq. made the first requests for information to New Jersey’s Department of Health about what happened during the Spring segment of the pandemic with residents and staff at Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation I and II, officials said.
It has also now been over two months since Sussex County officials has received an update from the Department of Health on the completion status of these requests.
Kelly made two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests to the State in May, the first on May 1 and the second, May 12.
In his first request, Kelly asked for 19 different types of records pertaining to Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation II including: routine inspection reports from 2017 through 2020; complaint inspection reports; the State’s communications with Andover Subacute’s legal counsel Christopher Porrino; complaints that the Department of Health received on its hotline since Jan. 1; all OPRA requests the Department of Health has received since Jan. 1; the facility’s personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory since Jan. 1; all communications between the State and officials from the County of Sussex; and payments the facility purportedly made for civil penalties imposed on it in 2017.
The second OPRA request made on May 12 from Kelly asked the State for directives and orders long-term care facilities within Sussex County received from the Department of Health, about acceptance and treatment of COVID-19 patients.
On May 29, Kelly sent via Certified Mail, return receipt requested, follow-up correspondence to Genevieve Raganelli, OPRA custodian for New Jersey’s Department of Health, stating if no response was received by June 10 for the requests he had made, Kelly would seek authorization from the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders to pursue the State of New Jersey legally in Superior Court for the responses.
On June 13, Raganelli responded, stating Kelly’s May 12 request had been closed, because she claimed it was sent to the incorrect office within the Department of Health, which she said was then forwarded to her in the correct office. She then asked for more time through June 29 to fulfill the requests made.
On June 24, she made similar allegations that the May 1 request had been re-routed to her, but rather than fulfilling the request, Raganelli directed Kelly to the State’s website, where she said he could look up the information he requested.
Kelly countered her claims in a response on July 6, including that under OPRA, it was insufficient for the State to provide information where Kelly should search; and instead, she needed to deliver the requested information. Additionally, he furnished a news article in his response that the State had already fulfilled OPRA requests to media outlets for Andover Subacute, requesting some of the same information.
On July 17, Raganelli responded to Kelly, advising she would need another extension until August 5 to provide him the information. Raganelli asked for a third extension on August 11, notifying Kelly she would need until August 19 to provide all of the requested information.
To date, the County of Sussex has neither received follow-up correspondence from Raganelli nor another extension request.
“If this were a municipality or a county, we’d be censured for failure to provide the requested information,” said Sussex County Freeholder Herbert Yardley, who has been following the issue at and outside of Freeholder meetings, about the lack of state response. “It is outrageous the State hasn’t given us the reports about Andover Subacute.”