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News from Passaic County, New Jersey
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    A mother is suing the facility over the outbreak that claimed the lives of 10 children.

    Editor's note: Do you have a family member on the pediatric unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, or a child who has been affected by the viral outbreak there? NJ.com would like to hear from you. You may reach us at (732) 902-4559, or write to Susan Livio at slivio@njadvancemedia.com, Spencer Kent at skent@njadvancemedia.com, or Ted Sherman at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com


    A lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation alleges the facility did not immediately alert parents about last month's viral outbreak at the facility that infected her son and claimed the lives of 10 children.

    The lawsuit, filed in Passaic County Superior Court, alleges that the facility didn't tell Paula Costigan for more than a week that her son was among those infected in the outbreak, and didn't transfer him to a hospital until a week after developing symptoms.

    Costigan's 14-year old son was hospitalized Oct. 18 in critical condition and remains in the intensive care unit at Hackensack University Medical Center.

    If Costigan had known about the outbreak after the first children were diagnosed,  she could have pushed the facility to transfer her son to an acute care facility sooner, according to her attorney, Paul da Costa, of Roseland.

    Costigan's son developed a high fever and "serious respiratory complications" on Oct. 11 -- two days after the facility alerted the state of the adenovirus outbreak. Still, Costigan alleges she was not told about the outbreak until Oct. 22.

    Costigan's son was transferred to the hospital on Oct. 18 in critical and life-threatening condition, the suit alleges. However, when she visited him, she still was unaware of the outbreak.

    On Oct. 22, she received a letter, dated Oct. 18, informing her of the outbreak.

    "Had she been timely and properly informed that there was an (outbreak) in the pediatric unit, she would have been given the opportunity and chance to have him transferred out to an acute care facility," da Costa said.

    He added, "They knew certainly by the end of September -- certainly by Oct. 1. And instead of disclosing to parents ... they crossed their fingers and hoped for the best," he said.

    There are 30 people -- 29 children and one adult who works at the facility -- who have been sickened in the outbreak between Sept. 26 and Oct. 29.

    Costigan's son entered the Wanaque Center in March 2015, receiving long-term care for a severe condition that requires a tracheostomy. The children who live at Wanaque all have severely compromised immune systems.

    The suit also points to numerous unsanitary conditions and poor infection control practices that it claims contributed to the outbreak.

    state inspection on Oct. 21 found more than a dozen deficiencies in hand-washing and infection control.

    The suit alleges the infections of Costigan's son and other patients were "a result of the deviations" from accepted standards and protocols.

    Adenovirus is a respiratory illness that typically causes flu- or cold-like symptoms but can be far more harmful to those who are medically fragile.

    The suit is seeking damages against the defendants and cost of the suit.

    A spokesman for Wanaque Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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    "Veterans Day ... is a day for all of us to begin our journey of protecting our freedom and the freedom of many future generations."

    Special thanks to vfwauxiliary.org for this explanation of the importance of Veterans Day to military veterans and civilians alike.

    "On the 11th hour...of the 11th day...of the 11th month...the fighting of World War I ended in 1918.

    american-flag-unfurled.jpg 

    "Due to the conclusion of 'the War to end all Wars,' November 11th became a universally recognized day of celebration.

    "The day was originally declared 'Armistice Day' 8 years after the end of World War I and honored only veterans of that war. Then in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War, it was renamed 'Veterans' Day' to honor all veterans who served America in war and defended democracy.

    "So, today we honor all of our veterans ... who unselfishly placed their lives on the line for our freedom.

    "Those men and women were ordinary people... until they heard the call of duty and answered it. They left their families ... their homes ... and their lives ... not for recognition or fame or even the honor we bestow upon them today. They fought to protect our country ... to maintain our way of life.

    "As we honor our veterans and remember their great deeds, let us also salute those who are currently fighting for our freedom.

    "The War on Terrorism has helped us all realize how truly unique the American way of life is. The freedom we enjoy is extremely special, and that is why we must defend it.

    "So, now is the time to not only honor those have fought or are fighting for our freedom...it is also the time for each of us to take part in protecting it.

    "The defense of freedom is not just for those in the military; each of us shares that duty and that responsibility. We don't have to join the army or the navy or any other organization of defense to actively defend our way of life. We can protect our freedom simply by maintaining it here in America.

    "If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must put them into action - for example, by voting in elections or speaking out against injustices. We must also ensure that everyone feels the benefits of freedom. And we can do that by volunteering in our communities or teaching our children what it really means to be an American.

    "Veterans' Day isn't just a day for veterans - it's a day for all Americans. It's a day to remember why they were fighting and a day for all of us to begin our journey of protecting our freedom and the freedom of many future generations.

    "Thank you for honoring our veterans today. Let us walk toward tomorrow still honoring them...by living in the freedom they protected."

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Here are links to other related galleries:

    Vintage photos of Medal of Honor recipients from N.J.

    Vintage photos of women and the war effort in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    N.J. has the most top-rated rated hospitals for safety in the nation, according to The Leapfrog safety study.


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    Employees of the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation claimed that senior administrators delayed sending kids to the hospital, even as many started dying. Watch video

    As a deadly virus started sweeping through a New Jersey pediatric-care facility in late September -- ultimately killing 10 children and infecting 19 others so far -- health care workers repeatedly asked why the sickest of their young patients were not being transferred out to hospitals. 

    Two employees of the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, speaking on condition of anonymity over fears of losing their jobs, claimed that senior administrators delayed sending kids to the hospital -- even as many started dying.

    The reason? They said senior staff at the for-profit facility have long been consumed by the need to keep the 92 beds in the pediatric unit full, to keep Medicaid funds flowing. 

    At the same time, they claimed the facility was chronically understaffed to save money.

    "You would be surprised how slow they were to send these kids out, even after the deaths, even after the media knew. They are still delaying," said one employee.

    In fact, as child after child developed what appeared to be a stubborn respiratory infection and spiking fevers as high as 104 degrees, symptoms were merely "masked," not treated, the workers said. The pediatric workers said staff turned up the air conditioning on full blast in their rooms to bring down their fevers. In addition, they kept giving the children the same medications, even though they had not been effective for days.

    "It's been known for a while that they try to keep the kids there and treat the kids there as long as possible before having to send them out to a hospital ... so they have the bed full," one of the pediatric unit workers said.

    The Wanaque Center and other pediatric nursing facilities receive $519.46 per patient per day, and the money stops as soon as the patient is transferred to a hospital, according to the state Medicaid office.

    A spokesman for the Wanaque Center declined to comment. Eugene Ehrenfeld of New York, a co-owner for Continuum Healthcare, which operates the Wanaque Center and according to state records operates seven other health care facilities in New Jersey and others more outside the state, also declined to comment and hung up on a reporter.

    The kids at the Wanaque Center started getting sick on Sept. 26, when the Department of Health said the first child was diagnosed with a respiratory ailment. It was later determined to be adenovirus, viruses that are rarely fatal that often mimic symptoms of the flu and common cold. While people typically recover in a matter of days, in some cases infections from adenovirus can be life-threatening, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

    Four days after the first child became ill, and still more than a week before the New Jersey Department of Health knew anything about the growing outbreak, 4-year-old Doracase Dolcin came down with a fever that would rise and fall over the next few days.

    Doracase smiling_edited.jpgDoracase Ephraime Dolcin, 4, one of 10 children who died in the viral outbreak. (Photo courtesy of the family)

    Modaline Auguste of East Orange, Doracase's mother, told NJ Advance Media in an interview last week that nurses gave her daughter cold sponge baths and applied ice to break her fever.

    "I said, send her to the hospital," Auguste said. "They said they were waiting for the doctor."

    It was an answer she would repeatedly hear for nearly a week, even after her daughter spiked a 102-degree fever on Oct. 3. On the evening of Oct. 5, Doracase was transferred to Saint Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson. She died Oct. 8.

    Since then, nine others, from toddlers to teenagers, have died.

    One employee said there may have been other reasons Wanaque did not want to send children to the hospital for emergency care.

     "I think there they were concerned about the Health Department being aware. They were concerned about the school that's in the facility reporting them to the Department of Health," the pediatric worker said.

    Records show the Wanaque Center has been repeatedly cited for deficiencies in hand washing and infection control, both before and after the outbreak, according to state and federal inspection reports. And while the state health department said it may never know how the virus was spread, medical experts say it there is a high likelihood that the only way it would have moved from one bed-bound patient to another was by someone who was caring for the kids since the virus is not airborne.

    Since the outbreak, many staff members, as well as family members, have complained the facility has been chronically understaffed.

    Employees who agreed to talk to NJ Advance Media said the lack of adequate help on the pediatric floor often meant kids left in soiled diapers or routinely left unbathed.

    "There's this one point that keeps coming up -- how did it spread to so many patients? One thing is that ... we have a history of not having sufficient staffing that we consider to be safe," said one of those workers.

    Adenovirus.jpgAn image of the adenovirus. (Yale Rosen | Flickr)

    Debbie White, who heads the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, which represents 70 nurses represented by HPAE Local 5107 at Wanaque Center, said the nursing staff, both registered nurses and licensed professional nurses, had worked diligently to contain the spread of the disease under difficult circumstances, but said nurses "have reported a shortage of nursing staff which may lead to poor infection control practices that can put patient safety at risk."

    Ask Alexa

    She added that the staff had urged the administration to provide adequate supplies to protect patients from cross-contamination including protective gowns, gloves and masks which can reduce patients' exposure to the virus. A recent state inspection, though, said gowns, gloves and masks were available.

    Jacqueline Donker of Kinnelon, the aunt of one of the children at Wanaque who was hospitalized with adenovirus, said she had noticed the facility declined after the new owners, Continuum Healthcare, took over in 2014, with the pediatric unit becoming more run down and the nursing staff cut significantly.

    "The owners that took over ... let this happen," Donker said.

    In the wake of the viral outbreak, the state Department of Health has launched an investigation, and Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to find answers. The Senate Health Committee has announced it will soon hold hearings.

    The state health department, following its own guidelines for viral outbreaks, did not send inspectors to the facility until two weeks after Wanaque notified the state on Oct. 9 of the outbreak and that two children had died, state health department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said.

    But Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said his office is not investigating the medical decisions made by physicians or other Wanaque personnel to keep a child at the facility instead of sending them to the hospital.

    For those who cared for the kids, the deaths and widening investigation have left many at the Wanaque Center emotionally overwhelmed, and said the environment inside is bleak. The stench of eye-burning bleach is everywhere. And the children are still suffering.

    "It's excruciating to see the children who are confined to their beds, waiting for the virus to run its course," an employee said.

    Another employee said some kids who are very alert have been "more or less quarantined," unable to leave their rooms. And several, the worker added, remain in cribs that look like cages.

    Both said they feared for their own jobs. "We are risking everything," one said, of talking to a reporter.

    One, who began to cry as she spoke, described the staff as devastated.

    "You can't possibly understand the amount of heartache the staff are going through right now and are continuing to go through as children are out of the facility, in hospitals in critical condition."

    Staff writers Kelly HeyboerTed Sherman and Research Editor Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.

    Editor's note: Do you have a family member on the pediatric unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, or a child who has been affected by the viral outbreak there? NJ.com would like to hear from you. You may reach us at (732) 902-4559, or write to Susan Livio at slivio@njadvancemedia.com, Spencer Kent at skent@njadvancemedia.com, or Ted Sherman at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com.


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    They often charge $1,500 or more for services that legitimate providers do for free, or a small fee

    In Latin American countries, "notarios" are lawyers who can provide legal services to clients.

    In this country, though, notaries, or notary publics, cannot. They're not lawyers, and can only witnesses the signing of documents.

    But across New Jersey, some people or storefront shops that use that word "notario," mainly in urban areas, are fraudulently offering immigration and legal services.

    They prey on the immigrant community and Spanish-speaking customers, who believe they're being represented by a lawyer of someone with special knowledge of immigration procedure, state authorities alleged Friday.

    Some of the businesses were charging $1,500 or more for immigration services that, by law, can only be provided by licensed lawyers or representatives accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and working for DOJ-recognized organizations, the state' Division of Consumers Affairs said in a statement that.

    The division has identified 28 of these businesses or individuals, and are going after them with violations and fines.

    The violations total $326,000 in civil penalties, ranging from $6,000 to $16,000 per person or business.

    The actions are the result of a months-long undercover operation, based on tips, consumer complaints and investigators checking out the places, which often hold themselves out as tax preparers or travel agencies and offer notary public and immigration assistance for sale.

    IMG_1968.jpgOne of the targeted businesses, Mundo Travel Agency in Trenton. (Kevin Shea | NJ Advance Media) 

    Typically, the organizations offer their services for free or a small fee.

    Some of the businesses leave their clients without money or irreplaceable documents like birth certificates or passports, and expose them to possible immigration detention or deportation.

    Some unauthorized practitioners are predators looking for victims to scam and charge high fees and pocket the money without doing any work.

    Others are well-meaning who make mistakes, file incorrect or incomplete forms and miss deadlines.

    Either way, people who need real representation often find out too late, after missed deadlines, the state says.

    "Today we are reinforcing our commitment to protecting all New Jersey residents, regardless of their legal status, from financial predators," Paul R. Rodriguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs said in a statement.

    "All New Jersey residents who fall victim to fraud or other unlawful conduct should know that they can safely report the matter to law enforcement. We are here for you," he said.

    The businesses that face fines from the state:

    • A.A.N. Accounting & Multi-Service, Kearny
    • A & A Consultants, Elizabeth
    • AC Velox Multiservice, Elizabeth
    • Airsealand Tours, Inc. / Air Sea Land Travel & Tax, Kearny
    • AMC Immigration Services, Garfield
    • Angel Financial Services, Elizabeth
    • Borche's Service Express Travel / Services Express Corporation, Plainfield
    • Consuelos Travel & Consuelos Immigration Services, Lakewood
    • D' Vazquez Tax Solutions / D'Vazquez Tax Solutions / E.C.T.A. Envios El Costeno, Garfield
    • Dieugrand Insurance Agency, Jersey City
    • Foto-Loft / Photo Loft, Newark
    • IG Tax Multiservices LLC / IG Tax Multi Services, North Bergen
    • J.V. Services / JV Typing Services, Elizabeth
    • La Feria Services, Plainfield
    • Miriam Caso / Bookkeeping & Tax Services, West New York
    • Master Agency, Paterson
    • MIA Services, Union City
    • Nancy Tax Services, Union City
    • N-VIA Travel & Associates, Trenton
    • P & L Multiservices, Garfield
    • Pro Immigrants Foundation, Elizabeth
    • QAP Total Services, Elizabeth
    • Kenny Tax Service, Paterson
    • Mundo Travel Agency, Trenton
    • SS Professional Services, Jersey City
    • Sylvana's Multiservices / Marilyn's Services, Elizabeth
    • Time Travel, Long Branch
    • West Side Brokerage, Jersey City, NJ

    Anyone seeking immigration services can use the following services to find a legitimate provider at www.USCIS.gov/immigrationpractice or call the USCIS at 800-375-5283.

    And consumers can see a list of New Jersey-based organizations recognized by the DOJ that offer non-attorney staff members or volunteers here.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Two employees told NJ Advance Media that administrators delayed sending kids to the hospital -- even as many started dying. Ten children have died and 19 others have tested positive for the adenovirus, a hospital-acquired infection.

    State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal sent a team of inspectors to the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation after employees claimed the facility delayed transferring critically ill children who had been infected in a viral outbreak to the hospital, the department confirmed. 

    Two employees told NJ Advance Media in a report published Thursday that senior administrators delayed sending kids to the hospital -- even as many started dying. Ten children have died and 19 others have tested positive for the adenovirus, a hospital-acquired infection.

    Our 4-year-old who died in viral outbreak needed emergency care

    Speaking on the condition of anonymity over fears of losing their jobs, the employees said managers delayed moving patients to keep as many of the 92 beds in the pediatric unit full and keep Medicaid funds flowing. 

    "You would be surprised how slow they were to send these kids out, even after the deaths, even after the media knew. They are still delaying," according to one employee.

    "A surprise inspection team of several investigators are currently on-site investigating multiple complaints," Health Department spokeswoman Dawn Thomas said. "While we cannot reveal those complaints in the context of ongoing investigations, reports from the media can be classified as complaints."

    The Wanaque Center and other pediatric nursing facilities receive $519.46 from Medicaid per patient per day, but the money stops as soon as the patient leaves, according to the state Department of Human Services.

    A spokesman for the Wanaque Center's for-profit owner, Continuum Healthcare, could not immediately be reached for comment. 

    This is the second surprise inspection in about two weeks. The health department sent a team two weeks after Wanaque informed the state about the outbreak and the deaths of two children. The inspection found deficiencies in handwashing and infection control.

    Editor's note: Do you have a family member on the pediatric unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, or a child who has been affected by the viral outbreak there? NJ.com would like to hear from you. You may reach us at (732) 902-4559, or write to Susan Livio at slivio@njadvancemedia.com, Spencer Kent at skent@njadvancemedia.com, or Ted Sherman at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 


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    The state's response will be part of what the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will examine when it holds a hearing on Dec. 3.

    The kids started getting sick on an unseasonably warm day in late September.

    Yet it would not be until Oct. 9 -- and after the death of two children -- when the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation notified the state Health Department of a viral outbreak inside the long-term care facility in northern New Jersey. And then another 12 days before state inspectors walked in the door.

    The devastating adenovirus outbreak at the Wanaque Center in Haskell has so far led to the deaths of 10 children and infected 19 more. How the outbreak began remains unknown.

    But an examination of how the outbreak unfolded and spread rapidly has raised questions over why state health officials waited two weeks before deploying a team to see for themselves how Wanaque was managing the crisis.

    The state's response will be part of what the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will examine when it holds a hearing on Dec. 3 to discuss the outbreak, said Sen. Joseph Vitale, the committee chairman said. 

    Death stalked the Wanaque center. Still, they delayed sending kids to the hospital, workers allege

    "We will ask as many questions as we are able to, but this will be one of them," said Vitale, D-Middlesex. 

    "We want to know when it was reported, how the department responded and how the facility responded," Vitale said, adding he wanted to be cautious "until we know all of the facts."

    "No doubt we are all concerned about this, and as a layperson, I say something is amiss here," he said.

    Death stalked the Wanaque center. Still, they delayed sending kids to the hospital, workers allege

    Wanaque notified the state and local health departments about the outbreak after business hours on Oct. 9., according to Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner.

    "The state immediately counseled the facility on infection control protocols, to be implemented immediately," Leusner said.

    The next day, the department's Communicable Disease Service -- along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local health department began working with Wanaque to recommend infection control practices, she said.

    The state dispatched two registered nurses from its Health Facilities, Survey and Field Operations office on Oct. 21 and conducted a surprise inspection. A state inspection specialist has remained on site.

    The state conducted a second surprise inspection on Friday after a report by NJ Advance Media citing workers at the Wanaque Center who alleged that administrators delayed sending critically ill kids to the hospital because they did want to lose Medicaid funding if a pediatric bed went empty. 

    The decision to wait two weeks before sending in state health employees was based on the science of allowing one incubation period to elapse to see whether Wanaque's handling of the outbreak was working, Leusner said.

    The incubation period of the adenovirus virus is two weeks, the department said. 

    "It would have been impossible to determine that an on-site presence could have been useful before an incubation period's worth of time," health department spokeswoman Dawn Thomas said.

    "It should be understood that while on-site inspections, infection control consultations and the daily monitoring that are in place now are useful for information-gathering and determining possible enforcement, they do not have direct impact on containing the spread of the virus or preventing harm to patients," Thomas said.

    "Containing the virus ultimately depends on facility management and clinical staff following these protocols under all circumstances, for every patient, and Department of Health is taking every action it can to hold the facility accountable for this," she added.

    Wanaque Center's for-profit owner, Continuum Healthcare, which has repeatedly refused comment, did not return calls on Friday. 

    "The Commissioner believes that DOH staff responded appropriately at each time point, given the information we had," she said.

    Adenovirus is actually a group of viruses that are rarely fatal. They mimic symptoms of the flu and common cold, often attacking the respiratory tract, but can also cause gastroenteritis and conjunctivitis. They tend to affect infants and children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Illnesses from the virus are usually mild and people typically recover in a matter of days. But in some cases, infections from adenovirus can be potentially life-threatening, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

    All of the pediatric patients at Wanaque Center are medically fragile. Most need ventilators to help them breathe. Some had severe birth defects and significant health problems.

    Why these died, however, remains puzzling to some.

    "These kids were really fragile and severe adenovirus certainly can be fatal," observed David Cennimo, an epidemiologist at University Hospital in Newark and a professor of medicine at Rutgers University Medical School. "It's a bad respiratory illness and you can end up on a ventilator. But these kids were already on a ventilator and I wonder why they couldn't support them through this."

    Not involved directly or knowing specifics about their cases, he said he wondered if there were secondary infections. There are many unanswered questions, he added.

    "I don't understand it. It's a medical care facility. These kids are monitored. I can't explain it," he said.

    State health officials, while they continue to investigate, said they may never know the answer to how the virus spread.

    "It's impossible for us to know what exactly were the factors related to the spread," said Christina Tan, the state's epidemiologist who heads the health department's Communicable Disease Service. "There are many factors."

    Adenovirus is not an airborne threat. It does not get spread through a building's heating and ventilation system, like Legionnaire's Disease, explained Tan. Rather, the virus moves through respiratory droplets or contact.

    The state inspects these facilities every nine to 15 months, Leusner said.

    The Wanaque Center had been repeatedly cited for deficiencies in handwashing and infection control, both before and after the outbreak, according to state and federal inspection reports. 

    During an inspection last month, the state said there were germicidal disposable wipes, sanitizers, masks, gloves, and gowns available on every wing, and mostly in every room for the staff and visitors to use prior to entering the room. The report said there were also guidelines regarding adenovirus for visitors visible in each room, warning visitors not to visit if they are sick, and observed staff cleaning the rooms with germicidal cleaning solutions.

    But the report noted deficiencies in handwashing procedures, where members of the staff did not wash their hands long enough.

    Washing hands is imperative. Not a quick rinse, but for at least 20 seconds. They teach health care professions to sing "Happy Birthday" to themselves about twice. At Wanaque Center, state inspectors found that some nurses were not getting even through the first verse, in terms of timing.

    Cennimo said there was a high likelihood that the only way it would have moved from one bed-bound patient to another was by someone who was caring for the kids.

    "I would be concerned that whoever was caring for the kids was the contact vector between them," Cennimo said.

    Vitale, the health committee chairman, said the he hopes to find out whether the outbreak spiraled because of human error or systemic weaknesses. Maybe it's both. he said.

    "These children are medical fragile and depend on other people for their survival," Vitale added. "It shouldn't have happened to this degree. One child gets sick and maybe two, but this many? 

    NJ Advance Media Staff Writer Spencer Kent contributed to this report.

    Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook


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    Mistakes were made in wrongful convictions. The state is recommending reforms. Watch video

    Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee walked out of the Passaic County jail almost exactly one year ago.

    It was a long time coming - 24 years after they were convicted on murder charges and three years since new DNA evidence raised questions about their guilt.

    On Friday, New Jersey's attorney general said a lengthy independent investigation into how the case went sideways was finished. Mistakes were made, authorities acknowledged.

    What mistakes? They weren't saying.

    Still, the case could lead to significant reforms in how prosecutors in the Garden State handle wrongful conviction claims, according to a copy of a letter sent by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to New Jersey's 21 county prosecutors, a copy of which was obtained from his office by NJ Advance Media.

    It comes as Grewal is weighing the creation of a statewide conviction review unit to deal with cases that may have put innocent people behind bars. 

    The letter included recommendations from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali, who led the post-mortem examination and outlined six steps for prosecutors to avoid more embarrassing episodes of botched convictions.

    The memo encouraged law enforcement officials to be more open to DNA testing and to "treat the long saga endured by Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee as instructive and cautionary."

    Grewal's letter noted that Kelley and Lee hadn't been declared innocent before prosecutors abruptly dropped their charges, and Zazzali's review "uncovered no evidence of foul play or illegal conduct" by prosecutors or police.

    The investigation did find "'some matters' that could have or should have been handled differently," the letter said, but exactly what those problems were remains unclear.

    Grewal did not return a message seeking comment Friday, and a spokeswoman declined to answer questions about missteps revealed by the inquiry. Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes, whose office spent years fighting the release of Kelley and Lee, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

    What happened in Paterson murder case?

    Asked for a copy of the full "confidential" report by Zazzali and Kevin Walsh, a colleague at the politically connected law firm, Gibbons P.C., the Attorney General's Office declined to release it, telling a reporter to file a public records request for the document. 

    The long saga of Kelley and Lee started with the slaying of a Paterson video store clerk. Tito Merino, 22, was working in his uncle's store, Victoria Video when he was viciously stabbed and beaten in a 1993 robbery.

    Based on a confidential tip, Paterson police zeroed in on Kelley, Lee and another man as suspects, and quickly obtained signed confessions from Kelley and Lee. The pair later recanted, saying they confessed only under pressure from police, and prosecutors later dropped the charges against the third man. But Kelley and Lee were convicted at separate trials.

    Decades later, two legal groups dedicated to freeing the wrongly convicted - the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries - obtained new DNA testing and other testimony that contradicted the pair's signed confessions.

    The case was the subject of a 2017 special report from NJ Advance Media, which reviewed thousands of pages of trial transcripts, expert reports and court records and raised questions about their guilt.

    A hat that police said was left behind by the killer was later swabbed and re-tested, the results ruling out Kelley and Lee as its owner. When the DNA profile was run through a federal database of convicted felons, it matched a former Paterson man who served time for a similar crime.

    Prosecutors in Passaic County insisted they had the right men, even arguing in court documents that the other man was innocent of the crime. Coverage of the case by NJ Advance Media prompted further scrutiny. 

    After a Superior Court judge overturned the convictions of Kelley and Lee, and prosecutors lost an appeal, the Attorney General's Office took over the case and announced Zazzali's review. 

    But Grewal disclosed in his Friday letter that the investigation "did not find sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against any other individuals for Merino's murder," meaning the store clerk's killer may never face justice. 

    It's still unclear what missteps were uncovered by the attorney general's review of the case, but Zazzali's memo included six recommendations for preventing future black eyes for the justice system. 

    They included always investigating when DNA points to a potential other suspect, meeting with defense attorneys who raise "strongly exculpatory evidence," notifying top prosecutors about new evidence and not opposing efforts by defendants to get new DNA testing in many cases. 

    Paul Casteleiro, an attorney for Centurion Ministries who represented Lee, said those steps weren't taken by prosecutors who handled the Paterson case. 

    When new DNA evidence surfaced, he said, "they not only didn't investigate, they absolutely refused to investigate."

    The attorney general's review found prosecutors should do more to make sure they haven't imprisoned innocent people in their quest for justice.

    "The duty of law enforcement is not solely to obtain and protect convictions, but rather to ensure that justice is done in every case, for victims and defendants alike," Zazzali and Walsh wrote. 

    In his letter, Grewal said he was forming a working group to create new guidelines on handling DNA cases in New Jersey.

    That development comes as a separate panel, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long and former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, is expected to release recommendations to the attorney general about establishing a formal conviction review unit in his office.

    S.P. Sullivan may be reached at ssullivan@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The teenager was stabbed at least eight times, and had wounds to his stomach, arms and back, according to Deputy Police Chief Christopher Storzillo.

    Police are searching for the person who stabbed a Passaic teenager at 4 a.m. Saturday, leaving him with multiple injuries. 

    The 14-year-old was attacked at 81 Third Street. The teenager was stabbed at least eight times, and had wounds to his stomach, arms and back, according to Deputy Police Chief Christopher Storzillo.

    The victim was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Paterson. He is under sedation in the I.C.U. but is in stable condition. 

    Police have not made any arrests and are obtaining video from the scene and speaking with potential witnesses, Storzillo said. 

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    Animal shelters continue to be the leading source of pets.

    Facts on animal shelters from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

    * Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. The number is evenly split between dogs and cats. A positive note is that the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 7.2 million in 2011.

    * Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year, again with an even split between cats and dogs.

    * About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. In this, we don't find so even a split; 620,000 of the returned animals are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.

    * Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.

    These are the most common sources from which primary methods cats and dogs are obtained as pets (this information was based on a multiple response question, which results in the total percentage exceeding 100% individually for cats and dogs. In addition, the 'other' category includes all source categories that were reported by less than 10% of both dog and cat owners):

    Animal Shelter/Humane Society

    Dogs      23%   Cats     31%

    Friends/Relatives            

    Dogs     20%   Cats     28%

    Breeder              

    Dogs     34%   Cats     3%

    Stray

    Dogs     6%   Cats     27%

    Private Party

    Dogs     12%   Cats     6%

    Other

    Dogs     32%   Cats     39%

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Admissions are closed until the outbreak is over, according to the health department. Watch video

    Editor's note: Do you have a family member on the pediatric unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, or a child who has been affected by the viral outbreak there? NJ.com would like to hear from you. You may reach us at (732) 902-4559, or write to Susan Livio at slivio@njadvancemedia.com, Spencer Kent at skent@njadvancemedia.com, or Ted Sherman at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com

    Lab testing over the weekend confirmed four more children are infected in the viral outbreak at a pediatric nursing home in Passaic County, bringing the total number of patients affected to 34, the state Health Department confirmed Monday. 

    Since Sept. 26, the adenovirus has swept through the pediatric unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, infecting 33 children and one adult who works there. Ten children have died.

    The virus typically causes a mild illness that mimics the flu but it can pose far more serious complications to some people, particularly those with weakened immune systems, like the patients at Wanaque.

    "Because of the long incubation period of adenovirus, new cases were not unexpected," Health Department spokeswoman Dawn Thomas said Monday. "Adenovirus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, meaning that symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus." 

    The first case of the virus was reported Sept. 26 and the most recent was was Friday, Nov. 9, Thomas said.

    Wanaque is one of four pediatric nursing homes in the state licensed to treat medically fragile child, who often rely on technology to help them breathe and eat. They are frequently born prematurely or with birth defects.

    Wanaque informed the state of the outbreak on Oct. 9, after two children had died.

    Why did it take so long for state to inspect facility where deadly outbreak killed 10 kids?

    The next day, the department's Communicable Disease Service -- along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local health department began working with Wanaque to recommend infection control practices, she said.

    The state dispatched two registered nurses from its Health Facilities, Survey and Field Operations office on Oct. 21 and conducted a surprise inspection. A state inspection specialist has remained on site ever since.

    Last week, Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal sent in another inspection team after NJ Advance Media published a story quoting two employees who claimed the facility delayed sending the sickest children to the hospital for monetary reasons. The facility loses its $519 a day for every empty bed. 

    Wanaque's owner, Continuum Healthcare, has declined numerous requests for comment.


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    The holders of two lucky Jersey Cash 5 lottery tickets will split Monday's $1,137,832 jackpot.

    The holders of two lucky Jersey Cash 5 lottery tickets will split Monday's $1,137,832 jackpot.

    One was purchased at Jay Cee's, a stationery store on First Avenue in Denville, the other at Bobbink Liquors on Valley Road in Clifton, state lottery officials said Tuesday.

    Retired union worker buys $5M scratch-off ticket

    Each ticket is worth $568,916.

    Monday's winning numbers were: 6, 18, 21, 28 and 36. The XTRA number was: 2.

    The jackpot climbed above the $1 million mark after seven consecutive drawings without a ticket being sold that matched all five numbers. 

    The odds of a $1 ticket hitting the jackpot are 962,598 to 1. Tuesday's jackpot resets to $75,000. 

    Meanwhile, Tuesday's Mega Millions jackpot is worth $106 million with a cash option of $59 million. The top prize for Wednesday's Powerball drawing is $107 million with a cash option of $61.1 million. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     


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    As if having your team lose to the lowly Buffalo Bills isn't enough, one New York Jets fan's day got even worse on Sunday

    As if having your team lose to the lowly Buffalo Bills isn't enough, one New York Jets fan's day got even worse on Sunday after he rear-ended a car, failed a sobriety test and had an open bottle of whiskey and suspected marijuana in his car, police said.

    His reason for his brush with the law was simple.

    JetsFan.jpgChristopher Greyshock, 57, of West Milford (Photo: Wayne Police) 

    "I drank too much because the Jets suck," Christopher Greyshock, 57, of West Milford, told police during his sobriety test, according to a release from the Wayne Police.

    Officers there were called to the corner of Alps Road and Route 23 at 5:15 p.m., which was about an hour and a half after the Jets game ended, for a report of a car accident with injuries and found first aid squad members helping an injured woman and a man lying on the grass.

    Greyshock then "staggered" and "swayed" over to the officers and told them that he had rear-ended a car that was stopped in traffic, the release said.

    Police said they could smell alcohol on his breath and that there were "stains of liquid" on his blue jeans. It was then that police performed the sobriety test an then found that his blood alcohol level was over the legal limit at .13 percent.

    Officers then searched his car and found a three-quarters full bottle of Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey on his passenger seat, the burnt remnants of a joint on the center console, rolling papers on the passenger side floor and a bag which contained marijuana, authorities said.

    Greyshock's car was impounded and he was charged with assault by auto because the driver he hit was injured, DWI, reckless driving and drug possession, police said.

    After he was processes and issued his traffic summonses and charges, he was turned over to a "responsible adult," the release stated.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     

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    The Labor Day weekend shooting left two dead and injured two other's including the fugitive's former girlfriend.

    A man was identified Tuesday and charged in a quadruple shooting on Labor Day weekend in Paterson that left two dead and injured two others, including his former girlfriend, officials said.

    Jonathan Hernandez, 31, of Paterson, was charged with two counts of murder and several weapons-related offenses, according to a release from the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office.

    PatersonWanted.jpgJonathan Hernandez, 31, of Paterson (Passaic County Prosecutor's Office) 

    Hernandez is still on the run and was considered "armed and dangerous" by the prosecutor's office.

    Paterson residents Daryl Tann, 48, and Nykeema Kersey, 33, were shot and killed as they sat in a BMW on 12th Avenue around 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 2, authorities have said.

    Jason Parker, 30, and Latoya Lesane, 32, both of Paterson, were also in the car and were injured in the shooting.

    The four were sitting in the car when the shooting took place but were able to drive away until the car broke down on 18th Avenue.

    Lesane is Hernandez's former girlfriend, the release stated.

    Before the shooting took place, Hernandez damaged Lesane's car with a baseball bat and later that evening, he confronted her and the three other victims outside the Elks Lodge on Ellison Street and tried to start a fight, officials said.

    One hour later, he approached their car, opened fire and fled, prosecutors said.

    Anyone with information on Hernandez's whereabouts was asked to contact the Paterson Police Department's detective bureau at 973-321-1120 or the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office's tip line at 1-877-379-7276.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     

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    Construction of the nearly 80,000-square-foot ShopRite should be complete by November 2019 and the new store will also sell alcohol

    A new ShopRite supermarket that sells alcohol will be built at the site of the former Wayne Hills Mall, according to the project's developers.

    Construction of the new supermarket is scheduled to be complete by Thanksgiving 2019, said Stephen Hittman, chief executive officer for Crossroads Companies of Mahwah.

    Work is underway to demolish the 103,000-square-foot mall, located off Hamburg Turnpike and Berdan Avenue. The mall was built in 1974, closed in 2006 and has been vacant ever since.

    The new ShopRite, which is still under design, will be nearly 80,000-square-feet - about 20,000-square-feet larger than the area's current ShopRite, which does not sell alcohol.

    The former mall site is on a 29-acre property that includes a Burlington store, Kmart, LA Fitness, a closed Toys 'R' Us store and a Firehouse Subs.

    The Wayne Township Planning Board approved construction of the supermarket and five smaller stores in 2016. That decision was appealed by Stop&Shop, which operates a store in a nearby shopping center.

    A state Superior Court judge, however, ruled in favor of the planning board, Hittman said.

    "The relocation (of ShopRite) will provide the Township of Wayne's 55,000 residents with a brand new, larger store with upgraded amenities while keeping the same ShopRite brand," Hittman said in a news release.

    "This is an excellent location that provides ease of access and ample parking, and it will allow ShopRite to expand its produce, organic and other product offerings," the developer said.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.