Two bills sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle addressing issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis at long-term care facilities await action by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The first bill requires the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) to implement and oversee an “Isolation Prevention Project,” while the second provides a one-time lump-sum payment to staff members at long-term care facilities.
The Isolation Prevention Project requires long-term care facilities in New Jersey to adopt and implement a written isolation prevention plan and have appropriate technology, staff and other capabilities needed to prevent residents from becoming isolated.
Visiting Loved Ones
“For months at the start of the pandemic, family and friends were not allowed to visit their loved ones in long-term care facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-37) in a press statement. “Though this precaution was intended to protect the physical health of residents, for many the sustained social isolation took a toll on their mental health.”
The plans would require residents to have in-person contact with other residents as well as family, friends and other support systems during public emergencies, consistent with the circumstances of the emergency and the facility’s response plan.
If residents must be physically isolated due to the circumstances of the emergency or the facility’s response plan, they would be allowed to communicate with others electronically, including via videoconferencing and social media.
“Six months into this crisis, we’ve learned social distancing doesn’t have to mean isolation or loneliness,” said Vainieri Huttle. “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.”
A resident or their family members would be able to request staff develop an individualized visitation plan for the resident, which would identify the resident’s needs and preferences, address and establish a visitation schedule if appropriate, and describe the location, modalities and responsibilities of staff, visitors and residents during visitation.
Under the bill, residents who have disabilities that impede their ability to communicate, such as those who are deaf, blind, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or developmentally disabled, would be given assistive and supportive technologies to facilitate face-to-face, verbal or auditory contact with others.
Additionally, the NJDOH would be required to establish a grant program to help facilities purchase electronic devices and technological equipment.
The second bill provides a one-time lump-sum payment to staff members at long-term care facilities, requiring the state’s Treasurer to create a supplemental payment program for long-term care staff who meet certain criteria during the period starting March 9.
The criteria includes:
- Worked at least 10 weeks during which the employees provided direct care services to long-term care residents;
- During each of those 10 weeks, provided at least 25 hours of direct care services in one or multiple facilities;
- During each of those 10 weeks, earned an hourly wage of less than $25 per hour or an equivalent salary.
“Long-term care professionals have been on the frontlines since day one of the pandemic,” said Vainieri Huttle, chair of the Aging and Senior Services Committee. “They’ve put their own health at risk to care for our elderly and disabled loved ones during these uncertain times. We need to show our appreciation and gratitude for their work.”
CARES Act Money
The supplemental payment program would be subject to the availability of federal funds made accessible to New Jersey for COVID-19 response efforts, including funding through the CARES Act. The State Treasurer would determine the amount of the payment based on available funds and anticipated number of applicants. Eligible long-term care staff would apply for the supplemental payment online through a standardized system.
The bill gives the treasurer discretion to expand the payment program to include additional groups of healthcare workers during the pandemic, depending on the availability of federal funds.
Additionally, the bill would establish a grant program for long-term care facilities to help them provide supplemental payments to eligible direct care services employees. Facilities would be required to submit a report to the state treasurer documenting that the facility used 100% of the grant funds for supplemental payments.