The impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s senior population, and in particular residents of nursing homes, is spurring legislative efforts from four Assembly Democrats.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37)—along with Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-7), Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-14), and Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-15)—recently co-sponsored two bills to address multiple concerns related to the health of the state’s aging population.
The legislation would create a commission to review the ability nursing homes to respond to public health emergencies, coordinating with a previous bill seeking to establish a temporary task force to address potential concerns associated with the growing number of seniors in New Jersey.
Focus on Long-Term Care Facilities
“We can’t only focus on the well-being of elderly residents in the middle of a pandemic,” said Vainieri Huttle, who chairs the Assembly’s Aging and Senior Services Committee. “We must address these issues beyond the duration of a public health crisis and realize that our population is steadily aging. Our seniors will require adequate resources to address their unique needs.”
More than 5,500 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths were associated with a long-term care facility—including the state’s three veteran’s memorial homes.
Sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Murphy and Benson, the Assembly Health Committee (A-4050) will focus on the need to change how residents of nursing homes are cared for during public health emergencies.
“This commission would identify what the inadequacies and needs of our nursing homes are in order to understand what the state needs to do to support them,” said Murphy.
After examining the efficiency of existing policies and procedures and sufficiency of staff and funding to respond to emergencies, the committee will make recommendations as to how nursing homes might better meet the needs of their residents in these situations.
“It is crucial that we do not wait until the next major public health crisis to analyze the plans our nursing homes have in place for emergencies,” said Benson. “We must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing a commission to study the way these facilities respond to dangerous situations and then make suggestions that would help protect vulnerable residents from harm.”
Looking Beyond COVID-19
While nearly 80% of the state’s COVID-19 related fatalities have been 65-years-old or older, legislators have called for a better understanding the needs of the state’s aging population as a whole as well.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy, Vainieri Huttle and Verrelli introduced the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee bill (A-1124). The proposed legislation would establish a temporary task force to study and propose a plan of action to deal with potential concerns associated with the growing number of seniors in New Jersey.
“The senior citizens that have made New Jersey their home deserve to have a better quality of life,” said Verrelli. “By establishing a task force to study how we can improve the way our state cares for elderly populations, we can properly prepare for the growing number of residents who will need our help.”
The legislative actions are expected to work with recommendations that Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli received from the Manatt Health report. Those recommendations outlined how long-term care facilities can move forward to reopen for new residents and visitors, andbest address mitigation, protection and resiliency against future outbreaks.
Murphy stated at the press briefing June 3 that he would work with Senate Health Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19) and Huttle to enact the changes called for in the report.
“The COVID-19 pandemic ravaging New Jersey has shed light on the fragility of our state’s long-term care system. It is critically important that we increase transparency and provide necessary resources across all affected departments to enhance oversight in order to address the deficiencies that led to outbreaks within our long-term care facilities,” said Vitale and Huttle in a joint statement released by the governor’s office.
“It is equally important to build a resilient and stabilized health care system with strong workplace protections and adequate staffing in place to swiftly respond to future outbreaks. We look forward…to implementing these much needed, overdue reforms outlined by Manatt to ensure the safety every resident and staff member within our long-term care system.”