Legislation sponsored by State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-39) creating the Nursing Home Advisory Council and introducing penalties for long-term care facilities that violate state and federal regulations was signed into law earlier this month.
The legislation, A-4478/S-2759, directs the state’s Department of Health (DOH) to scale penalties for nursing homes that repeatedly violate state and federal rules, including stricter penalties and special focused inspections.
“Over the last two years, thousands of elderly residents in New Jersey’s nursing homes lost their lives due to coronavirus infection. During that time, there has been little to no accountability for the policies that have been implemented,” said Schepisi in a press statement after the bill was signed. “This legislation will make sure that we have accountability going forward and that any long-term care facility that violates state or federal regulations is held responsible.”
“We need to keep our most vulnerable residents safe—and hold those who put their health in jeopardy to account,” the Bergen County lawmaker added.
The bipartisan legislation creates a nine-member Nursing Home Advisory Council under the DOH to advise on the oversight of nursing homes and issues faced by residents and families.
The enhanced sanctions and penalties will include a series of escalating fines for severe violations, as well as a series of escalating licensure actions for repeated violations. These licensure actions may include suspending, terminating, or revoking the facility’s license, restricting new admissions to the facility, or requiring the transfer of residents to another facility.
Holding Operators Accountable
When the bill was unanimously passed by the Assembly in 2021, Valerie Vainieri Huttle noted less than 100 of New Jersey’s nursing homes were fined for deficiencies over the last three inspection cycles even as 41% of facilities had very-below average and below-average health inspection ratings.
“These numbers just don’t add up,” said Vainieri Huttle, prime sponsor of the legislation when she was a member of the Assembly. “Clearly, non-compliance issues are not being accurately reported or facilities are not being penalized enough to make improvements.”
“The result is that many of our most vulnerable residents in nursing homes are receiving substandard care, potentially to the point of neglect. It’s time we hold these facilities accountable.”
Additionally, DOH would be required to review reporting requirements for long-term care facilities, and take steps to standardize and consolidate reporting requirements. Each nursing home would be required to post annual owner-certified financial statements on its website, with DOH providing a link to the facility’s financial statements on the DOH website.
“The alarming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our nursing homes has forced us to ask ourselves some tough questions,” said Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-29). “Why are we allowing facilities that cannot meet basic health and safety standards to take in new residents? Why are they repeatedly violating these rules, and failing to make changes? What can we do to hold them accountable going forward?”
“There are no easy answers, but we must begin by enforcing stricter penalties and increasing our scrutiny of inadequate facilities.”
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as on Jan. 28 was 1,817,614 with 5,601 total new PCR cases. There were 936 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 284,613. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,102,227.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 113 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 28,301. The state listed probable deaths at 2,907, bringing the overall total to 31,320. State officials noted 54 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 28, Bergen had a total of 715 new confirmed cases and 107 new probable cases, Essex 376 new cases and 28 new probable case, Hudson 418 new cases and 65 new probable cases, Morris 293 new confirmed cases and 48 new probable cases, Passaic 709 new cases and 40 new probable cases, Sussex 85 new cases and 20 new probable cases, and Warren 305 new cases and eight new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,114, followed by Bergen at 2,949, Hudson with 2,379, Passaic at 2,019, Morris at 1,171, Sussex at 351, and Warren County at 282.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 24, Bergen has 332, Essex has 316, Morris has 276, Hudson has 224, Passaic has 202, Sussex has 79 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 28, it declined to 0.55 from 0.58 two days before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 23 was 19.3%; by region, the rate was 16.3% in the North, 20.6% in the Central region and 23.8% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 3,487 patients hospitalized as all but one of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 28. By region, there were 1,325 in the North, 1,234 in the Central and 928 in the South—the first time under 1,000 since New Year’s Day. Of those hospitalized, 605 are in intensive care units and 383 on ventilators. A total of 513 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 563 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 25,206 of the cases, broken down between 11,622 residents and 13,584 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,352 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 45,431 residents and 36,604 staff, for a total of 82,035.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,971 on Jan. 28. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,386 residents deaths and 148 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with 62.7% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 17,820 and new staff cases 4,371 in the last week as of Jan. 16. Cumulatively, 217,685 cases have been reported— 167,619 students and 50,066 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 85.2% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 91.0%, followed by Warren at 88.1%, Sussex at 86.4%, Passaic at 85.5%, Essex at 81.8%, Morris at 82.9%, and Hudson at 78.3%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 26, the state has tracked 432 school outbreaks and 2,683 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 26 outbreaks and 318 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 53 confirmed outbreaks with 314 cases, Morris County has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 200 cases, Passaic County has 21 confirmed outbreaks with 178 cases, Sussex has 32 confirmed outbreaks with 167 cases, Essex County has 27 confirmed outbreaks with 142 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,400,863 in-state, plus an additional 547,297 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,948,160 as of Jan. 28.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,360,894 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 219,372 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,580,266. A total of 76% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 90% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,461,402 for Pfizer and 1,214,596 for Moderna. A total of 57,952 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,733,950 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 49% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 698,927 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 564,216, Hudson 505,308, Morris 375,938, Passaic 342,154, Sussex 90,125, and Warren 58,524.
The law and Advisory Council are useful steps. BUT… 1) who is responsible for nursing home deaths when the State Government orders infected senior citizens to be accommodated in a nursing home? The State?; and, 2) is the State paying enough for nursing home care to provide the nursing homes with the financial wherewithal to meet State standards?
Without provisions in the law addressing those issues, the State actions smack of passing the blame and making obligations without payments.