April 16 (UPI) -- Authorities in New Jersey discovered more than a dozen bodies inside a nursing home this week, spurring a review of all long-term care facilities in the state seeing a high number of deaths due to COVID-19.
Police were following up on a tip on Monday that a body was being stored in a shed on the property of the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center, the largest long-term care facility in the state, and discovered 17 bodies piled in a small morgue.
"They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring," Andover police chief Eric C. Danielson told The New York Times.
The Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II has been linked to 68 deaths, 26 of whom had tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was "heartbroken" by the deaths at the facility during a press briefing on Thursday, stating he has ordered Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to open an investigation into the facility as well as review all such facilities that have experienced a disproportionate number of deaths during the pandemic.
"I am also outraged that bodies of the dead were allowed to pile up in a makeshift morgue at the facility," he said. "New Jerseyans living in our long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for with respect, compassion and dignity. We can do better."
Located in Sussex County, the facility's two buildings are licensed for 514 long-term care 673 beds and had nearly 540 residents as of Wednesday, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
"We're not pleased with what is going on at the Andover facility," she said.
The department was notified by the facility on Saturday that it needed more body bags and that 28 bodies were being stored at the facility, and local health officials surveyed the facilities at 2 a.m. Sunday and reported five bodies were on site and another three had been released earlier the day prior.
On Tuesday, the department received a second complaint concerning more bodies being stored at the facility, resulting in a second survey that discovered it was in need of additional staff.
Grewal tweeted Thursday that he is "deeply concerned" about the high number of deaths at New Jersey nursing homes.
"That's why we've opened a statewide investigation," he said. "We'll follow the facts wherever they go. Stay tuned."
The state, one of the worst-hit by the virus in the country, has reported 75,317 cases of COVID-19 and 3,518 deaths. Persichilli said the death toll increased by 362 deaths on Thursday, of which 54 were residents of long-term care facilities.
"This is completely unacceptable," Murphy said. "This is completely, utterly, not just outrageous but unacceptable."