Sussex County officials are failing residents with their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis at Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation Center is ongoing, and Sussex County still doesn't have a testing site.
The COVID-19 outbreak and loss of life at the Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation Center is a heartbreaking tragedy. Our Committee's prayers and condolences continue to be with those living & working in the facility, those that have passed away, and all of their loved ones.
The ongoing devastation at Andover Subacute received international news coverage and continued national coverage, because of the incomprehensible numbers and the questionable circumstances under which it occurred. Still, for all the residents of rural Sussex County, the souls we have lost are not numbers. They're our very own loved ones, neighbors, and friends.
The attention the Andover Subacute facility is receiving is for a horrific reason, yet the attention is forcing change.
We are asking Sussex County's officials to stop casting blame on others and hold themselves accountable. Anything but advocacy and transparency is counterproductive to providing Sussex County residents with the resources they need.
As reported in the New Jersey Herald this week, Sussex County officials were informed about the virus spreading at Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation Center on March 29. They confirmed this in their official statements released between April 16-18 by the Board of Chosen Freeholders, County Administrator Gregory Poff and Health and Human Services Administrator Carol Novrit about the long-term care facility. It was on April 15 that the New York Times first reported the shocking conditions at Andover Subacute.
Sussex County officials knew about the COVID-19 outbreak at Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation for 17 days before they informed the public.
Each official statement also stated that the County notified the New Jersey Department of Health, as is protocol. We thank our county officials for doing so. What is troubling is that between March 29 and April 15, there was not one public statement made, official or otherwise, by our County officials regarding the situation in Andover. Instead, it was the Andover Township Police Department, volunteer groups, and citizens informing the public online.
The Sussex County Freeholders spent those critical 17 days lambasting Governor Murphy for his Executive Order that closed New Jersey's public parks, calling for the reopening of gun shops, and providing false and misleading information about the lack of funding from the CARES Act for Sussex County.
While the County does not monitor the Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation Center, its public advocacy would have brought much needed attention to the facility earlier.
On March 30, one day after County officials were informed about the worsening situation at Andover Subacute & Rehabilitation Center, Freeholder Deputy Director Dawn Fantasia posted that Governor Murphy now considers gun shops essential businesses, writing, "THIS proves the voice of the people matters. NEVER STOP FIGHTING FOR YOUR RIGHTS".
During the most recent Freeholder meeting on April 23, Freeholder Petillo informed the public that all the advocating for parks was working as it led to a phone call with the Department of Environmental Protection. Sussex County Freeholders and LD-24 Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Parker Space spoke publicly about the parks on a near-daily basis issuing statements, letters to state officials, and creating a petition.
Our Freeholders know that advocacy and public transparency make a difference. This fact is exemplified by their actions and in their own words. Following the required protocol of notifying specific state and county departments is the literal bare minimum.
During that same Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting, Freeholder Director Sylvia Petillo commended all municipal, County and LD-24 officials for working with them, but went on to add, "we need our federal representatives to start working for us." The truth is that our federal representatives are working for us, as well as with other elected officials. This is widely reported. County officials have even thanked them publicly.
Congressman Gottheimer and Senator Oroho wrote a bi-partisan letter to the state asking for more aid to Sussex and Warren Counties, and together, with other federal officials that represent Sussex and Warren County, they have procured much needed resources.
The money that Sussex County did not receive from the CARES Act is due to a formula that existed in creating the current stimulus bill. Counties across the country suffered from this formula. All New Jersey federal officials, in a bi-partisan effort, demanded the formula be modified so that Sussex and other affected counties are not shorted on funding in the future.
We acknowledge that our County officials have been trying. However, the public is only given updates about the testing site from County officials when asked or pressed for information. The initial response was to blame federal officials because of the lack of funding from the CARES Act, but Warren County has a testing site despite also being shorted by the formula.
The state designated each County's Office of Emergency Management to be responsible for providing testing sites in their County. In the case of Sussex County, the Office of Emergency Management is led by Sheriff Strada. Everyone appreciates what has been procured and received, but it is not enough, and a testing site in Sussex County is a necessity.
Freeholder Deputy Director Fantasia stated during last week's meeting that she speaks to Sheriff Strada every day. If the Freeholders are in daily communication with the head of the Office of Emergency Management, the public should have been updated before the April 22 meeting about the actions being taken around a testing site in Sussex County.
Sussex County deserves a higher standard of representation than elected officials blaming other elected officials for their own missteps. It is our right as constituents to hold all our officials accountable and to ask that they advocate for us. We can not get what we need when our leaders are looking backward and around, instead of inward and forward.
We all need to work together on every level to get through this. Everyone makes mistakes, and in this unprecedented time, we must have empathy and patience with our officials and one another.
We are asking that our County officials hold themselves accountable, and from this point forward, please be transparent, advocate for us without spending precious time blaming others, and do whatever must be done to secure Sussex County a testing site.