Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed four bills to fight the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, improve overall care, and boost disclosure of COVID cases and deaths in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities for seniors.
The first of the new laws (S3031/A5059) requires the state Board of Nursing and the Department of Health to review the curriculum and clinical experience requirements for nurses and certified nurse aides and incorporate a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention training course aimed at preventing infections. Additionally, the law requires the state Department of Health to work with long-term care facilities and labor groups to launch a pilot program to craft standards for the advancement of certified nurse aides.
A second new law (S3032/A4855) requires the Department of Health to do a statewide assessment of nursing home infection control and prevention infrastructure and to develop a statewide plan to improve existing systems.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes suffered a deadly toll, with 43% of all COVID-19 deaths across the country through June occurring at just nursing homes,” said outgoing State Senate President Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-3), a lead sponsor of both bills.
“It has become increasingly evident that we are overdue for a long-term strategy to ensure that our state’s nursing homes are focused on and equipped to support the safety of residents and caregivers,” Sweeney said in a press statement. “By providing added supports and resources to staff, as well as creating advancement opportunities to decrease turnover and ensure continuity of care, we will be able to deliver the best care for our senior citizens while keeping their health and safety a top priority.”
COVID-19 Disclosure Mandate
The third law (S3041/A4861) is focused on disclosure. It requires the Department of Health to display on its website the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of employees and residents of long-term care facilities in New Jersey, by facility, since the beginning of the pandemic “as well as the total number of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths of employees and residents,” according to state Senate Democrats.
“It is widely known that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly, and, as a result, many of our state’s elderly citizens have succumbed to COVID-19 in the last several months,” said State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), a lead sponsor of the measure.
“In order to help our people, we must take actions to hold facilities accountable for tallying their total cases and deaths. By doing this, we can see where and when spikes are occurring and take appropriate measure to stop them,” Gopal added.
Ombudsman Training Law
A fourth new law (A4484/S3153) requires the state long-term care ombudsman to craft a training program for employees and volunteers in the ombudsman’s office and the Department of Health whose roles are associated with New Jersey’s long-term care facilities. The program will train the ombudsman’s investigative and advocacy staff and volunteer advocates in the ombudsman’s office as well as long-term care facility surveyors, inspectors, and complaint investigators from the Department of Health.
“The training will include information on the rights of long-term care residents; fostering choice and independence among residents; identifying and reporting abuse, neglect, or exploitation of residents; long-term care facility ownership; federal guidelines, laws and regulations pertaining to long-term care centers; and any issues, trends, or policies that impact the rights of long-term care residents,” State Assembly Democrats said in a press release.
If sufficient staff and funding are available, the new law stipulates that the training additionally can be offered to residents of long-term care facilities, their family members, advocacy groups, government agencies, and long-term care facility employees.
“To bring about much-needed reforms in our long-term care facilities, we must empower the people on the front lines, from employees to advocates,” said Assembly members and bill sponsors Angela McKnight (D-31), James Kennedy (D-22) Raj Mukherji (D-33), and DiAnne Gove (R-9) in a joint statement. “With comprehensive training, they will be able to more easily identify and respond to troubling situations and ensure long-term care residents receive the highest quality of care.”