Lawmakers are continuing their efforts to strengthen New Jersey’s long-term care system against future public health emergencies.
On Dec. 14, Gov. Phil Murphy signed off on a bill requiring long-term care facilities, nursing homes and hospitals to maintain an emergency inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE).
According to the newly-passed law, nursing homes and long-term care facilities are now required to maintain a supply of PPE that is sufficient to last 30 or 60 days, depending on if the facility is part of a larger system, while hospitals must have a minimum supply that would last 90 days.
If a public health emergency is declared, facilities are required to evaluate PPE stockpile and, if needed, secure additional gear. Under the law, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is permitted to impose fines against facilities that violate the PPE requirements.
In a joint statement, the bill’s sponsors, Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Nancy Pinkin (D-18), Robert Karabinchak (D-18) and Daniel Benson (D-14) said: “At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to personal protective equipment was scarce. Many long-term care facilities lacked a stockpile of supplies. Masks, gloves, face shields and sanitizers are critical to mitigating the spread of COVID-19; without them, the virus spreads rapidly. Unfortunately, limited access to these supplies led to the devastating outbreaks that we saw happen in our long-term care facilities.”
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), a bill sponsor, said, “Going into the pandemic, it was expected that the death rate for the virus would be the highest among older, more vulnerable populations. And yet, there was still not enough protections put in place for these populations, putting them more at risk for infection. I am thankful that the Governor signed off on this bill and going forward, we will be better prepared for a public health crisis.”
In response to the outbreak in New Jersey’s nursing homes, the state Legislature began looking to ensure better handling of emergencies, improved quality of care for residents and safer working environments for staff.
More than a dozen bills aimed at strengthening the system against future outbreaks have been introduced, many of which incorporate recommendations from the Manatt Health report, a state-commissioned review of how long-term care facilities and nursing homes responded to the pandemic.
In Manatt Health’s rapid-review, the half-million dollar report found nursing homes were unprepared to deal with the pandemic and presented a series of recommendations on how to improve long-term care in the Garden State.
The state Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee recently approved a bill to require the NJDOH to assess infection control measures at facilities and to develop a plan that sets benchmarks for improvements.
The measure came in response to Manatt Health’s finding that one-third of the state’s nursing homes were cited for infection control deficiencies in 2017.
Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “After the tragedies we saw in nursing homes this spring, it became abundantly clear that our long-term care industry needed swift and comprehensive reform. We all can agree that residents and their families deserved far better.”
“We must learn from our past missteps and pursue a path forward that prioritizes resident safety and high-quality care,” she said.
Assemblyman Benson said many facilities “were unequipped to mitigate the spread of the virus early on because they didn’t have adequate infection control policies or resources.”
“A statewide assessment of nursing homes will help us develop a uniform approach to infection control and guide a more cohesive response in order to better protect our most vulnerable going forward,” he said.
New Jersey has already implemented several recommendations made by Manatt Health, including the distribution of 30 million pieces of personal protective equipment, testing of 310,000 residents and 495,000 staffers and completion of 450 infection control surveys.
As of Dec. 18, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 423,226 with 3,975 total new cases reported and 44 new deaths, bringing that total to 16,216. The state listed probable deaths at 1,908, bringing the overall total to 18,124.
For North Jersey counties, Bergen had a total of 432 new cases, Hudson 410 new cases, Essex 392 new cases, Passaic 296 new cases, Morris 190 new cases, Sussex 60 new cases and Warren 34 new cases.
State officials noted 71 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,081, followed by Bergen at 1,981, Hudson with 1,496, Passaic at 1,242, Morris at 756 and Sussex and Warren counties both with 164.
In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 256, Essex has 239, Hudson has 161, Morris at 170, Passaic at 146, Sussex has 42 and Warren has 13.
The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Dec. 14 was 10.0%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one.
As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 1.03 from 1.05 the day before. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
Officials reported 3,582 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 1,608 in the North, 1,171 in the Central and 803 in the South.
Of those hospitalized, 715 are in intensive care units and 480 on ventilators. While 461 patients were discharged, 397 were admitted.
Essex Tops County Count
Essex has the most cumulative cases in the state with 43,038, followed by Bergen at 42,410, Hudson at 39,076, Middlesex at 39,220, Passaic at 36,998, Union at 33,750, Ocean at 27,864, Monmouth at 27,157, Camden at 25,116, Burlington at 17,941, Morris at 17,721, Mercer at 16,998, Gloucester at 12,164, Somerset at 11,292, Atlantic at 10,280, Cumberland at 6,635, Sussex at 3,616, Warren at 3,323, Hunterdon at 3,227, Salem at 2,331 and Cape May at 2,082.
Another 1,006 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 98 outbreaks involving 428 cases have been reported in 19 of the 21 counties in the Garden State, with 10 new outbreaks involving 40 cases recorded in the last week. For North Jersey, Bergen County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 86 cases, Passaic County has four confirmed outbreaks with 23 cases, Warren County has four confirmed outbreaks with nine cases, Sussex County has three confirmed outbreaks with seven cases and Hudson County has two confirmed outbreaks with 10 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 402 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 9,135 of the cases, broken down between 4,297 residents and 4,838 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,108 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 28,347 residents and 17,546 staff, for a total of 45,893 cases.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,425 on Dec. 17. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,111 residents deaths and 124 staff deaths.