WCBS 880 Interview: Murphy Discusses Furlough Proposal, Nursing Homes

Paul Murnane
May 06, 2020 - 1:07 pm

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    TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that he is signing an executive order to extend New Jersey's public health emergency by 30 days.

    "We’re still in a public health emergency," Murphy said. "If this extension signals one thing, it is this – we can’t give up one bit on the one thing that we know is working in this fight: social distancing. Remember, in the absence of a vaccine, or even proven therapeutics for COVID-19, our only cure is social distancing."

    The governor stressed "this does not mean we’re seeing anything in the data which would pause our path forward" and "it should not be interpreted by anyone to mean we are going to be tightening any of the restrictions currently in place."

    The emergency declaration was set to expire Thursday. The extension ensures the state will continue on its current "war footing" for the next month.

    "Extending this declaration ensures that we can continue using every resource at our disposal to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," said Murphy. ?But I want to ensure that this extension is not interpreted to mean that we are reconsidering our path forward or changing course on the principles I laid out last week in the Road Back plan. We will continue to stand by these principles and protect public health as we responsibly take steps to get the economy moving again.?

    New Jersey reported an additional 1,513 positive COVID-19 test results, bringing the statewide total to 131,890. The total has been growing since March 4 and more than 90,000 have now exited the two-week incubation window.

    There were 439 new coronavirus hospitalizations, but there were almost as many discharges with 435 patients leaving hospitals.

    More than 5,200 people are hospitalized across the state, but the governor said the spread is slowing.

    Despite some positive trends in the numbers, Murphy announced another 308 deaths across the state, raising the total to 8,549.

    The governor will bring on a nationally experienced team of experts to help tackle the challenges at long-term care facilities, and protect its staff and residents. They will focus on providing support to the state health department, conduct a two-to-three week review to address immediate concerns and make long-term, systemic reform recommendations.

    Murphy has said New Jersey faces choices as revenue vanishes during the shutdown.

    There is a proposal from the president of the state Senate to furlough 100,000 public employees for several days a week for three months.

    Earlier Murphy joined anchor Paul Murnane on the WCBS 880 newsline to discuss the proposal and other topics.

    Q: Is this an idea you can support?

    A: We've been open minded to it as a conceptual matter. I've spoken privately to the Senate president about it. Here's the hitch — the devil's in the details. You could make an argument right now that we've never needed government more. We've got people working to the bone. I mean if you're for instance in our Department of Labor and Workforce Development and you're processing unemployment insurance claims, you're working as hard as you've ever worked. So the answer is yes, as a conceptual matter, but again the devil's in the details. I think you could argue that we've never needed government more than right now.

    Q: One of the details in this plan is that the workers would be furloughed, they would collect unemployment, they would keep their healthcare benefits. We have so many people that have yet to hear back from the labor department may be rolling their eyes and thinking, 'Well I'm glad that the public workers have a have a plan all set for them and tied up with a neat little bow.'

    A: All I can say is if folks are frustrated in their endeavor to get their rightful unemployment insurance, I don't blame them. I mean the facts are, and I don't begrudge that for one second, the facts are that we have been overwhelmed and it won't make anyone feel any better, but this is a fact. We've processed as a percentage of what we've got coming out as I think we're number one in America right now in terms of processing through this. Folks are frustrated, I don't blame them, our people are working morning, noon, and night to get through it as fast as possible. Tomorrow's another weekly reporting of unemployment both nationally and New Jersey, my guess is it's not gonna get any better and this challenge will remain.

    Q: There's a a new look at nursing homes in New Jersey and long term care facilities, where about half of the deaths in the state have occurred. The Attorney General asking for the public's help in this investigation. What's the early take?

    A: I don't have a metric for you, but the performance of the operators has been exceedingly uneven. So let's be clear about who we should have on a pedestal — A: the patients, the residents in these facilities, including in many cases veterans who have laid their life on the line for our country; the healthcare workers who have been going in and out fearlessly every single day. Let's have them on a pedestal, but the operators have been uneven, is probably the most charitable word, including not just the basic management of these facilities. The Attorney General used the phrase yesterday which I think does capture it in fairness, "This is a 500 year flood. " This is the biggest healthcare crisis that we've ever had to deal with by a magnitude, but uneven is a charitable word, including in communication with loved ones which has left a lot to be desired. Have there been some stars among the operators? Yes, but unfortunately my personal take broadly is that it is not at an acceptable consistent level. I would think that the attorney general step — he's as good as it gets — is a major one in trying to get to the bottom of this, the commissioner of health has been outstanding since early March with a whole series of steps, I think you'll see even more emphasis put on this to to make sure we get this as right as we can.

    Q: The situation last year at the Wanaque Center you stepped up and signed some new legislation are you thinking ahead to what kind of changes might have to be made, are you thinking anything legislatively?

    A: Potentially, too early to tell. The attorney general's got an investigation going on, we've got this complaint page up and running, too early to give you a lot of metrics on that, but we will at some point when we've got a critical mass and thirdly I think you should look for other steps that we'll take to make sure not just in the here and now, because we got lives we gotta save literally today, I don't want folks to think that we're focused on the longterm at the expense of the here and now, but we got to do both. We gotta make sure that this is in a far better, stronger place this whole long term care facility reality in the state going forward.

    Q: The beach communities are expecting some guidance. We're hearing that Cape May actually has a plan they're looking for your blessing on. What can we expect? 

    A:We will have something soon. We've promised guidance and we will give it and by the way you look at a Cape May County, the shore is important up and down our state, you know, it's a make or break reality for a county like Cape May. So I don't begrudge their anxiousness to get a plan up and running that we can work with them on. I wanna say overwhelmingly New Jerseyans have been extraordinary in complying with the whole series of executive orders that we've put in place, really outstanding, and most recently and most relevantly for beaches we had a really good weekend in our state and county parks. We opened golf up with some strict parameters. Folks really did yeoman's work in complying. That's a really good step because that will allow us to take some of the lessons learned for instance things like capacity how many people do you allow in a park, and we limited it to 50 percent parking capacity last weekend, that felt like it worked. Could you apply a similar notion to a beach where the amount of daily tags they sell or seasonals or monthlys so those are those are the sorts of things we're looking at. I'm not sure it's this week but it'll be sooner than later that we'll have some guides out for beaches. The shore is precious to us at so many levels but we want to get this right. We gotta do it responsibly to make sure we're not putting people at risk and look for that guidance sooner than later.

    Q: Has the Murphy family made any summer plans or is everything out the window?

    A: We had summer plans, but as Mike Tyson reminds us everybody's got a plan until you get punched in the face. So we did have plans to travel but that's been scrapped. You will be seeing us, God willing, assuming we can get on our feet here you'll be seeing us a lot of the Jersey Shore this summer and in our lake communities as well.

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