Assembly Panel Advances Spencer Bill to Ensure Notification of Next-of-Kin when a Resident at a Senior Housing Facility Passes Away

Bill was Inspired by a Death at an Orange Senior Housing Facility

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer to establish protocol for notifying the next-of-kin when a resident of a senior housing facility passes away was unanimously approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.

“For anyone with an elderly relative who is away from home, finding out that the family member died is a realization of the greatest fear possible. Perhaps the only thing worse is finding out that he or she died a week ago,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “This legislation will put a plan in place and eliminate the chance of miscommunication, or the lack of communication altogether, when it comes to sensitive matters such as this.”

Specifically, the bill (A-3489) would require administrators of qualified housing facilities to establish and implement procedures for the collection of emergency contact information of a person to be notified in the event of the death of a senior citizen residing in the facility.

The bill was originally inspired by the May 2014 death of a woman who lived in an Orange senior citizens facility whose family was not notified for nearly a week after her passing. According to news reports, legal responsibility for notifying the next-of-kin is unclear, which led to a breakdown in communication between the housing facility, local police and the medical examiner.

Ultimately, the woman’s family found out the shocking truth on their own after their mother’s body lay in a morgue for more than a week.

“Something like this should never happen, not in this day and age with all the methods of communication that are available,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “There’s a simple fix to this problem to make sure other families don’t have to endure the same heartbreak and that is clearly delineating the responsibility for notifying the next-of-kin under the law. This bill will achieve just that.”

Under the bill, the procedures would have to include providing notice and the opportunity for a senior citizen who is a prospective or current occupant of a qualified housing facility to provide, and update as necessary, emergency contact information, so that the administrator can notify the emergency contact, if one is designated, in the event of the death of the senior citizen occupant.

Upon learning of the death of a senior citizen occupant, an administrator would have to notify the appropriate emergency contact as soon as practicable, but no later than 24 hours thereafter, or else they would be subject to a $500 civil penalty.

The bill defines “qualified housing facility” as any rooming house, boarding house, residential health care facility, assisted living facility, nursing home, continuing care retirement community, and public housing designated for seniors.

The bill was released by the Assembly Human Services Committee.