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Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle Introduces Bill Package Overhauling State’s Long-term Care Facilities

Seeking to protect both residents and staff of long-term facilities during future public health emergencies, two legislative committees will consider a package of bills focused on implementing far-reaching changes for this at-risk population.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee and State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19), chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, announced a comprehensive package of bills in response to Manatt Health’s review of the state’s long-term care facilities and their response to COVID-19.

“Long-term care facilities are home to our parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and neighbors,” said Vitale and Vainieri Huttle in a press statement. “Through this sweeping package of legislation, we aim to make their home a more safe and comfortable place.”

System Unequipped

Manatt Health’s report showed that long-term facilities were ill-prepared to handle the impact of the on-going pandemic. More than 6,700 residents of long-term care facilities, along with more than 120 employees, have died as a result of COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in our long-term care system,” said Vitale and Vainieri Huttle.  “While no one was fully prepared for the challenges brought by COVID-19, long-term care facilities were particularly unequipped to mitigate the spread of the virus. As a result, the impact of COVID-19 in these facilities has been devastating.”

Far-reaching Legislation

The legislation, which has now been referred to the committees chaired by Vitale and Vainieri Huttle, has eight components.

Included are bills calling for a review of licensure, operational and reporting requirements; the establishment a scaling system of actions and penalties for long-term care facilities in violation of state and federal requirements; and requirements related to the preparedness for and response to infectious disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics affecting long term care centers.

“The Manatt report showed COVID-19 did not create the problems in long term care; it merely exacerbated them,” said the Democratic legislators. “Now it’s our turn to take action to address long-standing issues and ensure our long-term care facilities are prepared to get through this pandemic and future emergencies. We must also make sure long-term care centers are delivering the highest quality care possible.”

Employee Pay

Measures additionally addressed concerns related to employee compensation. The legislation includes the implementation of paid sick leave, and raises the minimum wage for direct care staff in long-term care facilities to be three dollars higher than state minimum wage. This wage would be adjusted annually based on cost-of-living increases.

Facilities would benefit as well, as the legislation calls for a one-time, lump-sum payments to long-term care staff who provided a certain volume of direct care services to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a series of recommendations and actions from Manatt Health’s rapid review of the state’s long-term care facilities. The goal of the review was to address systemic challenges in long-term care, mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and reduce the impact of future outbreaks.

Study Findings

Among the outcomes of the study was the presentation of a roadmap for rebuilding a high-functioning long-term care system that emphasizes quality of care, patient safety, robust data infrastructure, and strong staff supports. 

Four key recommendations were provide by the firm, to improve the state’s long-term care facilities:

  • Strengthen emergency response capacity by strengthening the ability to plan, coordinate, and execute effective responses to the emergency protentional surges.
  • Stabilize facilities and bolster workforce by increasing the responsibilities of and support for New Jersey’s nursing homes and their workers in the short and long-term.
  • Increase transparency and accountability by implementing stronger mechanisms to ensure a greater degree of accountability and increase transparency through data and reporting.
  • Build a more resilient and higher quality system by establishing structures for stronger collaboration and advance payment and delivery reforms and increased reliance on home and community-based services.

“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.” said Vitale and Vainieri Huttle after the governor’s announcement. “We look forward to working with Governor Murphy, his Administration, Senate President Sweeney, Speaker Coughlin and our colleagues to implement these much needed, overdue reforms outlined by Manatt to ensure the safety every resident and staff member within our long-term care system .” 

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