ANDOVER TOWNSHIP — A nursing home was packing 17 bodies in a morgue meant for less than a half dozen before a tipster alerted police.

Police Chief Eric Danielson told the Townsquare News Network that his department was called to the Andover Rehabilitation and Subacute rehabilitation facility on Monday on a report about bodies being kept in an outdoor shed. Danielson said the bodies were not in a shed but were, however, being kept in a morgue intended told hold no more than five.

The chief, who is also head of the township's Office of Emergency Management, said he arranged to have 13 of the bodies taken to a refrigerated truck outside Newton Medical in order "to provide some breathing room so they could accommodate more bodies."

The facility has since ordered its own refrigerated truck, according to Danielson.

Danielson said he did not know how many of the deaths were the result of COVID-19.

"It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances," Danielson said, adding that the staff became "overwhelmed" with the number of patients who died in a short amount of time.

Prior to the pandemic, Danielson said police had "minimal problems" with the facility.

Officials told The New York Times that there had been 68 recent deaths linked to the 700-bed facility, including two nurses, and that 26 of them had tested positive for COVID-19.

Township police on April 9 reported that a "large portion" of the county's COVID-19 cases "are within a long-term care facility."

Conditions at nursing homes have been a concern with the state Department of Health, which is requiring all facilities to report test results and deaths.

Long-term care facilities are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, which produces the most serious complications among the elderly and those with other medical conditions.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Wednesday reported 71,030 cases of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities since March.

The Sussex County Department of Health reported that as of Thursday morning, 103 of the county's 554 cases of COVID-19 are in Andover Township. Sparta has the next highest number of cases with 68. Andover Township has 22 of the county's 40 COVID-19 deaths.

The county health department on Thursday morning did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information. The state Department of Health is not providing information about individuals due to the volume of cases.

James Adams, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, told the Townsquare News Network that relatives reached out seeking help for patients at the facility. The congressman has spoken with the governor’s office, Sussex County Sheriff Michael Strada, who also heads the Sussex County OEM, the nursing home’s administrator and the owner, according to Adams.

At least 27 residents at the Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus died from COVID-19, according to the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The New Jersey National Guard assigned 40 combat medics to "level off" staffing at Paramus. Another 35 reported to the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home in Edison.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage reported at least 45 deaths related to COVID-19 in three healthcare facilities in the city. Advocates held a rally on Wednesday demanding that one of those facilities, the Elizabeth Nursing and Rehab Center, be closed and evacuated, according to News 12 New Jersey.

The mayor told News 12 New Jersey that the facility had been ordered not to accept new patients.

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