• Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

New Jersey nursing home where 17 bodies were stuffed into tiny morgue hit with lawsuit

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against a New Jersey nursing home where 17 bodies were found stuffed into a four-person morgue during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit against Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II in Sussex County alleges that the facilities did not take the proper precautions to keep residents safe from contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The lawsuit accuses Andover I and II of violating state and federal nursing home laws and violating the consumer fraud act. It names both facilities as well as its owners, identified in the suit as Louis Schwartz and Chaim Scheinbaum, and a number of unnamed staff members and assorted business entities.

Brian Roberts, of New Jersey, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Sussex County Superior Court after his uncle, Albert Roberts, became infected with the virus and died on April 1. Albert Roberts was a resident of Andover II.

The suit alleges that in the years leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, both facilities were cited by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for “a litany of systemic issues,” including that Andover II “continuously failed to meet the requisite safety and sanitary standards needed to protect against the spread of infection and communicable disease.”

Both facilities were told to implement changes, but the lawsuit claims those changes were never made and that the nursing homes misled potential residents by claiming to be “high quality and regulatory-compliant.”

“Were it not for the representations made by Defendants that Roberts and the Decedent relied upon, they would not have chosen the Facilities,” the lawsuit reads.

In March, there was a coronavirus outbreak at both facilities that killed 94 people, according to the lawsuit.

Roberts could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. He told CNN that after his uncle’s death he was not able to get information from the facility about what happened or where the body was.

“There was a limbo period, where we didn’t even know where he was,” Roberts told the outlet. “I wasn’t able to get confirmation, really on anything.”

He told CNN that the nursing home did not confirm they had his uncle’s body for 21 days.

When contacted Tuesday, both facilities referred NBC News to an attorney, who released a statement on behalf of Scheinbaum.

“We monitored and complied with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” Scheinbaum said in the statement. “Despite all our efforts, the virus made its way into our facility, as it did in the majority of long-term care facilities across New Jersey. We took every possible step to handle this crisis internally while simultaneously making dozens of outreaches to local, state, and federal agencies for help.”

The statement went on to say that in June the CMS found that Andover II “was in substantial compliance with all applicable standards of care” and the facility has not had a coronavirus case since May.

Despite the lawsuit and previous reporting identifying Schwarz as a co-owner, his lawyer says he was only an investor who has had no connection with the facilities in at least a year.

The bodies were discovered in the morgue in mid-April through an anonymous tip. Eric C. Danielson, the town’s chief of police, told The New York Times that the facilities “were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring.”

Both Danielson and Andover Township Mayor Michael Lensak said the facilities were understaffed. In May, Andover II was fined $220,235 — more than $14,000 for each day that the CMS found the “facility was not in substantial compliance with federal requirements,” from April 6 to April 20.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is investigating the deaths.