Amid reports that the state’s long-term care facilities are failing to properly notify staff, caregivers and families of COVID-19 outbreaks, Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney is calling on the Department of Health to force compliance with their updated directives and state law.
As of April 14, New Jersey will not allow 123 nursing homes in the state to admit new residents as a result of these residences lacking the ability to isolate patients with the coronavirus. At least 342 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities have at least one patient with the virus, and approximately 5,945 people of the 60,000 long-term care residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
Under state law passed in February, nursing homes must have outbreak response plans that include policies regarding notifying residents, staff and families. The law was in response to an adenovirus outbreak at a Wanaque nursing home that killed 11 children in 2018.
“The lack of transparency at many of these facilities has to be fixed immediately to protect the staff, the residents and their family who are suffering in silence,” said Rooney (R-Bergen).
The state has surveyed all the facilities to determine if they can isolate infected residents in rooms with private bathrooms, or group infected patients together in separate wings.
The health department issued directives requiring nursing homes to notify their residents and staff, along with residents’ families, about cases of coronavirus within their facilities. There have been 18 orders or guidance put in place for nursing homes since March 6, including new rules on visitation, offering staffing support or enforcing mandatory reporting to patients, staff and family members when people test positive for COVID-19.
“Our veterans, our nursing home residents, health care workers and their loved ones deserve better,” stated Rooney. “Families can’t visit their loved ones right now and some facilities are cutting off other forms of contact. It’s unacceptable.”
As part of the state’s effort to help veterans homes, the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) is sending 90 nurses to Garden State veterans’ facilities, including the New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus as the residence continues to face a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 that has claimed the lives of at least 24 veterans.
Current guidance requires nursing homes and staff members must be notified in person and in writing of a coronavirus outbreak at the facility they are in daily contact with. Families or whoever is designated responsible for the resident must be reached by telephone, email or another form of communication within 24 hours and in writing within three days. Notification must happen when a resident or staff member has a confirmed case or is under investigation for coronavirus.
“Clear communication is critical right now,” said Rooney. “These are life and death situations.”