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Assembly Democrats Call for Addressing Needs of NJ Seniors During Public Health Crises and Beyond

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting New Jersey’s seniors more significantly than any other age group, four Assembly Democrats have renewed their calls for the State to thoroughly examine the needs of its elderly population. In addition to previous legislation on the matter, a new bill proposes the creation of a commission on nursing home emergency preparedness.

The recent legislation (A-4050) sponsored by Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Assemblyman Daniel Benson, would establish a commission to study the ability of nursing homes to respond to public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted the vulnerability of our senior citizens during public health emergencies – especially those living in long-term care facilities,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “We need to change, as necessary, the way we care for seniors during a crisis. This commission would identify what the inadequacies and needs of our nursing homes are in order to understand what the state needs to do to support them. Led by the State Attorney General, the State is currently investigating operations at long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. I anxiously await the results of this investigation.”

Nearly 80 percent of the state’s COVID-19 related fatalities have been 65-years-old or older, with well over 5,500 of the deaths being associated with a long-term care facility – including the state’s three veterans memorial homes.

The commission would examine the efficiency of existing policies and procedures and sufficiency of staff and funding to respond to emergencies, then make recommendations as to how nursing homes might better meet the needs of their residents in these situations.

“It is crucial that we do not wait until the next major public health crisis to analyze the plans our nursing homes have in place for emergencies,” said Benson (D- Mercer, Middlesex). “We must learn from the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing a commission to study the way these facilities respond to dangerous situations and then make suggestions that would help protect vulnerable residents from harm.”

In addition to advocating on behalf of long-term care facility improvements, several Assembly members have also emphasized the importance of understanding the needs of the state’s aging population as a whole.

The median age of New Jersey’s population continues to rise as Baby Boomers grow older – a trend that is reflected nationwide, with Census officials estimating the number of senior citizens will outnumber the amount of children in America by 2035. Prior to the pandemic, Assemblywoman Murphy introduced a bill along with Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli to address this trend.

The bill (A-1124) would establish a temporary task force to study and propose a plan of action to deal with potential concerns associated with the growing number of seniors in New Jersey.

“We can’t only focus on the well-being of elderly residents in the middle of a pandemic,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who also chairs the Aging and Senior Services Committee. “We must address these issues beyond the duration of a public health crisis and realize that our population is steadily aging. Our seniors will require adequate resources to address their unique needs.”

“The senior citizens that have made New Jersey their home deserve to have a better quality of life,” said Verrelli (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “By establishing a task force to study how we can improve the way our state cares for elderly populations, we can properly prepare for the growing number of residents who will need our help.”

The nursing home bill has been referred to the Assembly Health Committee while the aging population bill has been referred to the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.