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Covid Disaster Spurs Legislative Overhaul of New Jersey Nursing Homes

Declaring that the Covid-19 crisis exposed and exacerbated pre-existing, longstanding problems within New Jersey nursing homes, two Democratic state legislators have introduced a series of bills designed to ensure long-term care facilities are better prepared to weather future emergencies and deliver “the highest quality care possible.”

State Senator Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle on July 31 announced legislation that is intended to put into effect recommendations made in an independent organization’s report on New Jersey nursing homes and their response to Covid-19. The bills’ backers reportedly hope to get the legislation fast-tracked through the senate and assembly and to the governor’s desk.

The bills seek to impose better protections for staff and residents in the event of public health emergencies, as well as improve resident care and the working environment.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in our long-term care system,” the legislators said in a joint statement, describing state nursing homes as “particularly unequipped to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

“As a result, the impact … in these facilities has been devastating,” they stated, citing state death statistics of more than 6,700 residents and 120 nursing home employees to date. ”These numbers are unacceptable.”

Pandemic Command Center, Higher Pay for Staff Among Bills’ Provisions

The legislation is based on recommendations made by Manatt Health, an independent agency commissioned earlier this year by Gov. Murphy to review the state’s oversight of nursing homes.

Among other measures, the bills would:

  • Create an emergency operations center in the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) to provide a centralized command and resource center for disease-outbreak response efforts in nursing homes;
  • Establish a long-term care advisory council to advise DOH on nursing home oversight;
  • Establish a state task force on nursing home quality and safety, which would recommend improvements in care, resident and staff safety, and workforce “engagement and sustainability.”

The bills would also raise pay and grant other benefits to nursing home workers. They would increase the minimum wage for direct-care staff and also give one-time, lump-sum payments to staff who provided “a certain volume of direct care services to residents” during the current pandemic.

The legislation would also impose tougher penalties on facilities that fail to meet already existing state and federal safety standards.

According to Insider NJ, the legislation has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.

Contact a Respected Bergen County Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawyer

Although state and federal laws designed to protect nursing home residents from unsafe conditions have existed for years, enforcement of these rules in New Jersey and most other states has been plagued by difficulties, leaving our most vulnerable citizens at risk. Elderly nursing home residents are often not in a position to report or complain about abuse or neglect, so much of it goes undetected. Further compounding the problem, many long-term care facilities are owned by for-profit companies that cut corners on staffing and care, leaving patients in the hands of poorly trained, overworked caregivers.

Indeed, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency tasked with overseeing and enforcing nursing home safety, has ranked nearly 30 New Jersey nursing homes as far below the national standard of care. Clearly, nursing home safety laws are meaningless without strong measures in place to enforce them and punish violators.

Aretsky Law Group P.C. has many years of experience holding negligent nursing home operators accountable for the harms they cause. If your senior loved one has suffered abuse or neglect in a New Jersey nursing home, we can put our expertise to use in pursuing compensation for their negligent care.

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