Senate unanimously passes bill to create New Jersey Frontline and Healthcare Worker Memorial Commission

The New Jersey Senate today unanimously passed legislation establishing a commission to create a memorial for frontline and healthcare workers who valiantly fought and risked their lives battling the coronavirus.

The bill (S144), which Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, and Senator James Beach, D-Camden, sponsored, requires the commission to select a suitable design and location for the memorial, and establishes a non-lapsing fund to serve as a repository for any donations or appropriations provided for the memorial’s design, construction, and maintenance.

Since the pandemic’s onset, more than 1.875 million New Jerseyans have contracted COVID-19, which has accounted for the deaths of more than 30,00 state residents.

These casualties include frontline and healthcare workers who displayed tremendous courage and dedication in their efforts to treat coronavirus patients, Diegnan said.

According to project reporting from Kaiser Health News and The Guardian, more than 3,600 health care workers nationwide died fighting COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic alone. New Jersey accounted for nearly 270 of those deaths, ranking fourth in the country behind New York, Texas, and California.

“These frontline and healthcare workers,” Diegnan said, “are the definition of the word heroes.”

Healthcare workers from myriad fields, including those from police and fire departments, rose above their usual scope of duties to combat the surging cases of COVID-19, often with limited healthcare resources.

As one of the early epicenters of COVID-19, it is important for New Jersey to memorialize the tragic consequences of the pandemic and recognize the state’s immense loss of life, said Diegnan, noting New Jersey has endured the fourth most per-capita statewide coronavirus deaths in the country.

The COVID-19 Frontline and Healthcare Worker Memorial Commission will consist of nine public members who are state residents and representative of frontline and healthcare workers.

The Speaker of the General Assembly, the Senate President, and the Governor will each appoint three public members of the commission.

Assemblymen Joseph Egan and Joe Danielson are sponsors in the lower house of the legislation, which has been referred to the Assembly State and Local Government Committee.

The full Assembly needs to pass the legislation for it to be brought to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk to be signed into law.

Of the frontline workers who paid the ultimate price for their selflessness, Diegnan said, “Hopefully, this memorial will bring some comfort to their families.

“It is important that their sacrifice never be forgotten.”

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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