A Sussex County nursing home made positive changes, reeducated staff members and met federal compliance within five weeks after being hit with a troubling health inspection report amid an explosive COVID-19 outbreak in April 2020, newly obtained documents show.
The documents acquired by the New Jersey Herald this week from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services show that Woodland Behavioral and Nursing Center, formerly Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation II, also paid civil penalties of $220,235 accrued during a 15-day period when patients were in “immediate danger.”
The facility, slapped with the failed infection control report just days after 17 bodies were found by police stacked in a makeshift morgue in the complex, has since remained in compliance, according to a spokesperson for CMS.
The information comes as the facility reports the worst COVID-19 outbreak among all 670 long-term facilities in the state. The numbers at the Mulford Road complex have grown over the weeks, with the state’s latest data on Wednesday showing 218 residents and 121 staff members infected. Three residents have died in the latest outbreak.
Gottheimer on Thursday said it was “critical” to continue holding the facility accountable, “especially given their track record and the current spike and subpar vaccination rates.”
“More than a year removed from their initial findings, the facility owes the public and the families of those impacted their compliance with federal and state care requirements,” he added.
Woodland has the lowest vaccination rate among residents and staff among the long-term care facilities in Sussex County. Just 85% of residents are fully vaccinated and 52% are boosted. Among staff, 65% are fully vaccinated but none have received booster shots, state data shows.
CMS data shows the facility has been inspected for infection control three times since the 2020 incident. In November 2020 and May 2021, no deficiencies were noted. In February 2021, the facility was cited for failing to implement infection control measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 after a physician failed to wear appropriate protective equipment.
Plan of Correction report
Federal surveyors completed their investigation on April 21, 2020, finding several deficiencies including missing temperature logs; lack of documentation of residents’ symptoms; broken thermometers; insufficient use of protective equipment; and rooming of COVID-positive patients with those who were asymptomatic.
Woodland was required to submit a “Plan of Correction” within 10 days, which records show it did.
Among the corrective actions taken, nursing staff members were counseled and received reeducation after several incidents that placed residents in harm’s way. Nurses were retrained on notification requirements for powers of attorney after a resident died from COVID-19 and the person’s sibling, who served as legal guardian, was not notified of their worsening symptoms in the days before their death.
Nursing staff involved in failing to accurately assess and report the deteriorating condition of another resident who later died due to COVID-19 were also “reeducated and counseled,” the report states.
The staff members were also shown how to complete temperature check logs in a timely manner; how to use thermometers and properly calibrate them before use; and how to complete a COVID-19 symptom assessment, copies of which have been placed in binders throughout the facility.
According to the plan, residents were cohorted into different units as of April 18, 2020, based on their symptoms and COVID-19 test results.
Staff members were reeducated on the use of protective equipment and supervisors are told to observe employees putting the equipment on and removing it during their rounds for on-the-spot reeducation if necessary, the plan says.
Floors were properly mopped and cleaned, workers were told how to properly store linens to prevent contamination, and they were counseled on proper handwashing and sanitizing. Proper signage was also put in place.
To ensure compliance, the facility obtained services from a clinical nurse practitioner, a director of nursing consultant, an infectious disease consultant and an administrator consultant to help with corrective and systemic actions, according to the report.
Woodland reached complete compliance on May 28, 2020, during a revisit by inspectors, a CMS spokesperson confirmed.
Chaim “Mutty” Scheinbaum, CEO of Alliance Healthcare of Lakewood, which owns Woodland and Limecrest Subacute and Rehabilitation, a sister property formerly named Andover Subacute I, said the National Guard arrived Monday and he has not been contacted about any U.S. military assistance. In an email earlier this month, Scheinbaum told the Herald that Woodland continues to follow guidelines from state and national health agencies.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
The Passaic County Constables’ Facebook page looks like that of any police department in New Jersey.
The organization’s patch — which has the words “Passaic County Constable Police” wrapped around an illustration of Paterson’s Great Falls — serves as the profile picture. Further down, photos show smiling officers moving boxes, out on patrol or posing together, their belts heavy with collapsible batons, handcuffs and handguns.
They’re not police officers. They’re constables.
That means they’re politically-appointed civilians with little to no training, accountability and supervision — which makes them a potential danger, according to a state report issued last month that called for abolishing the position.
There are likely several hundred constables working throughout New Jersey — although nobody knows for sure, the report said. Some may be armed — although that’s also not clear.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Jason Williams, a professor of justice studies at Montclair State University and a Black Lives Matter activist. “They’re almost playing cops and robbers like we did when we were kids. This is a serious threat to civil liberties… and it threatens the trust and legitimacy of real law enforcement.”
The New Jersey Commission of Investigation, which delivered the 23-page report, might agree.
The document cited several instances during which constables — whose responsibilities and authority are not often clear — far overstepped their legal bounds. Such as when an armed Essex County constable allegedly pulled over a taxi after a July 2020 traffic dispute and demanded the driver’s license.
Or when Andre Morton — founder of the County Constables Association of New Jersey — led a posse of Essex County constables into Jersey City on Dec. 10, 2019, intending to somehow help authorities during a shootout between police and a gun-wielding couple who had just attacked a Jewish deli.
The report said Morton later testified before the commission that prior to the shootout, “he and those who accompanied him had never received any type of training, guidance or oversight whatsoever as a constable, much less the kind of professional preparation needed to properly support law enforcement during the harrowing events that occurred in Jersey City.”
Police and other law enforcement told the commission that the Jersey City attack — which left six people dead, including a city detective — was the last place untrained and unsupervised people like Morton should have been.
“Rather than serving as a beneficial adjunct to police, the role instead far too frequently represents a potential hazard to the constables themselves, the police they claim to want to help and the public at large,” the report said.
It also called constables “outdated relics that have no place in the highly organized and sophisticated system of modern law enforcement.”
The commission, an independent watchdog agency created in 1968 to investigate organized crime and public corruption, began its probe after Essex County law enforcement complained that several constables there had taken part in police activity they had no business doing and intentionally misrepresented themselves as police officers, the report said.
Authorities worried these actions could confuse or possibly endanger the public.
“To the uniformed citizen, they look like legitimate police officers,” commission spokeswoman Kathy Hennessy Riley said. “It’s trying to give this air of legitimacy to folks who have no training, no background and sometimes they carry weapons.”
The commission has recommended state lawmakers abolish the position and strike any mention of it from state statutes.
A number of influential statewide law enforcement organizations — including the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, the state Association of Chiefs of Police and the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association — support the commission’s stance.
“The idea that an ancient state law remains on the books, authorizing, in theory, thousands of untrained and unaccountable individuals to roam the streets in uniforms and vehicles that appear official is a recipe for disaster,” Patrick Colligan, the state PBA president, said in the report.
But none of this is new.
Constables have attracted the wrong kind of attention since at least 1964, when a Bergen County grand jury recommended the state abolish the position after a three-month probe into abuses.
The jurors’ reasoning was akin to the commission’s nearly 60 years later — general incompetence, unfamiliarity and confusion about the prerogatives of the office, according to news reports from the time.
Similar calls echoed through the following decades as the attorney general’s office sought to ban constables and state lawmakers ignored the pleas.
Not much has changed.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy declined to comment last week when asked if Murphy would support the latest commission recommendation.
A spokesman for the Democratic majority in the New Jersey General Assembly said he was unaware of any effort to ban constables. And a representative for the Democratic majority in the state Senate said officials were reviewing the report and would “take the appropriate steps deemed necessary based on the findings and recommendations of the SCI.”
A spokesman for Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck said the office is still reviewing the report as well.
The British first brought the position of constable to their North American colonies in the 1600s — back in England, parish constables kept the peace, stopped crime and arrested criminals, the report said.
Constables worked for free, weren’t trained and did their duties while still holding a day job.
In the United States, constables augmented the mostly ineffectual watch system, which relied on volunteers to warn communities of impending danger, according to a history of policing published online by Eastern Kentucky University.
Constables were considered official law enforcement officers and were usually paid by a fee system for the warrants they served, the university website said. They also worked as land surveyors or weights and measures officials, and in many cities, they supervised the local night’s watch.
In New Jersey, constables enforced the law before formal police departments emerged in the mid-1800s. New Jersey’s first Constitution, which it adopted upon declaring independence from Great Britain, mandated that towns choose their constables at an annual meeting.
But the system crumbled as the 19th century wore on, according to Eastern Kentucky University’s history of policing. The nation’s cities grew, and the antiquated network could no longer cope with the amount of disorder in the streets.
Modern police departments sprung up around the nation, evolving into what Americans see today.
But despite the many changes in law enforcement — especially in New Jersey, where becoming a police officer is far more complicated than it was even half a century ago — the process for naming constables hasn’t changed much since colonial days.
Any qualified voter who has lived in a given town for more than three years can serve, the state said.
Municipal officials have the sole authority to choose, appoint and assign them duties. In some towns, such as Paterson, individual council members sponsor a specific candidate and shepherd them through the process.
State law limits each town to 50 constables, the report said. It also demands constables secure a bond that indemnifies the local government from potential legal claims.
And it grants them countywide authority. That’s why many identify themselves as being Passaic or Essex county constables instead of Paterson or Newark constables.
But no statewide agency monitors or oversees them — so there isn’t even a count as to how many exist.
In a limited survey, the commission found 136 constables working in seven counties. But the true number is likely higher.
Some municipalities demand background checks, Paterson among them.
The city’s ordinance bars from serving people with certain criminal convictions, a history of drug use or those who submit false information on the application, the state report said.
“You cannot have anything in your background — you can’t ever have been arrested,” Maritza Davila, Paterson’s City Council president, said during an interview.
‘An island of their own’
Constables’ responsibilities vary from place to place, the state said.
In some towns, it’s a ceremonial title with no authority. In others, they are expected to enforce noise ordinances and provide security at the polls during elections, patrol local parks and help with crowd control at municipal events, the report said.
But there’s no uniform training requirements, even for those who do low-level police work, according to the report. In other words, constables can legally arrest someone but get no instruction on how or when to do it.
There’s also little to no oversight, the state found. The commission interviewed many municipal and police personnel who said their constables didn’t report to anyone.
And even though state law demands constables submit monthly activity reports detailing their activities, many send them late or not at all, the report said. The local officials to whom they supposedly report rarely reprimanded them for this.
This led an unnamed Passaic County police director to describe them as being on an island of their own, the report said.
The report presented several other issues, such as constables who use their alleged law enforcement experience to demand more money at private security jobs. Or they may routinely carry their guns beyond the narrow parameters set by their state-issued security guard licenses.
Robert Toledo, chief of the Passaic County Constables according to their website, testified that he had illegally wore his gun to public functions when he came straight from his security job, the state report said.
“I’m not going to leave my firearm in the car,” Toledo told the commission. “Anything can happen to it. I’m responsible for it.”
Reached by phone last week, Toledo said he is no longer affiliated with the group.
“I haven’t been a constable in a while,” Toledo said. “The whole thing has changed… I have no involvement.”
He declined to say when or why he left.
Frankie Roman, the group’s president, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Regardless, this alleged cavalier attitude toward firearms has already had consequences for some.
Morton, the Essex County constable who showed up at the Jersey City shooting, was arrested on gun charges in May of 2021 after he allegedly tried to bring a loaded pistol into a law enforcement facility in West Orange without valid credentials, the report said.
A representative of Morton’s constables association declined to comment on the report.
‘They are problematic’
Davila, the Paterson council president, said the city has about two dozen volunteer constables who are serving either one or three-year terms.
Each council person can appoint five during their term, as can the mayor, she said. The nine-member city council votes on each appointment. Davila wasn’t sure if the city sends constables for training once they’re approved.
The council president said she has appointed a handful of constables over her eight years in city government, including one serving now.
But she’s not sure the position should be abolished. Davila said she likes that it gives young people interested in the security field a foot in the door.
But she admitted the program does not always function as intended — for instance, not every Paterson constable submits a monthly report to the clerk’s office as state law demands, she said.
She’s not surprised the state wants to do away with the position.
“In Paterson alone, I’ve seen some things that have occurred… I don’t want to say much more than that,” Davila said.
Mayor Andre Sayegh did not respond to calls and texts seeking comment.
But Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes said she agreed with the commission — the state should dump constables because they confuse the public about who is a police officer and who isn’t, she said.
Especially when constables present themselves the way Paterson’s do.
“A member of the community might think they’re actually sworn law enforcement,” Valdes said. “They are problematic… Especially in today’s climate, you want to be absolutely certain as to who is doing what. Especially if they look like police.”
Her office has not charged any constables for wrongdoing, she said. But she’s still concerned that they aren’t trained and no one is watching them.
“You have to either tighten them up or abolish them altogether,” Valdes said.
Zellie Thomas, a community organizer and Black Lives Matter activist from Paterson, worried that they’re essentially a ticking time bomb. That’s why he wants them gone.
“It might be an accident — a constable may try to arrest someone but not know the proper way to do it and use an illegal chokehold, like George Floyd,” Thomas said. “A lot of times, people don’t think these things are issues until someone dies.”
“We shouldn’t have to wait for something tragic,” he said.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.