Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle will introduce a bill to combat senior isolation during public emergencies.
“This legislation will be critical not only in fighting isolation and its mental health ramifications, but also in ensuring that families have the ability to continue to advocate for their loved ones in long-term care facilities,” said Huttle (D-Bergen).
Huttle will propose the legislation as the state continues to navigate the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“During this period of social isolation, it is critical that we maintain a steadfast commitment to mental health,” said the Assemblywoman. “For seniors and other residents of long-term care facilities, the outbreak of COVID-19 has no doubt exacerbated the isolation that many may feel living in congregate living facilities.”
Huttle’s legislation would require the Department of Health to implement and oversee a Senior Isolation Prevention Plan for all residents in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities during periods of public emergency.
“Social distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness,” stated Huttle, who chairs the Assembly’s Aging and Senior Services Committee.
The legislation mandates facilities offer the appropriate technology, staff and other capabilities in place to prevent seniors and other residents in the facility’s care from becoming isolated during public emergencies.
Furthermore, the bill requires residents of long-term care facilities with disabilities that may impede their ability to communicate be given access to assistive technology to help facilitate face-to-face or verbal/auditory communication with loved ones. Those patients would include those who are blind, deaf or individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementias.
“Whether it be a natural disaster or a public health crisis, we must ensure that residents in these facilities can stay connected to their families and loved ones remotely when in-person visits are not feasible,” stated Huttle.
Long-term care facilities have felt the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state noted as of April 30, 489 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and the facilities have accounted for 18,045 of the cases and 3,247 of the total deaths. In comparison, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey has reached 116,264 cases and 6,770 deaths.
This would be the second piece of legislation arising from the coronavirus Huttle is sponsoring. The assemblywoman, calling upon the experience gained as a funeral director, proposed a bill designed to dignify those who succumbed to the disease. The bill requires long-term care facilities designate space for the appropriate storage of deceased individuals.