(TRENTON)- With the goal to provide greater oversight of nursing homes, particularly those with ongoing compliance issues, repeated complaints and performance issues, bipartisan legislation aimed to hold non-compliant facilities accountable for deficiencies was approved Thursday by the full Assembly by a vote of 72-0.
“Over the last three inspection cycles, less than 100 of New Jersey’s nursing homes were fined for deficiencies, but about 41 percent of facilities – about 150 – in our state have very-below average and below-average health inspection ratings. These numbers just don’t add up,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), prime sponsor of the legislation. “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.”
The bill (A-4478), sponsored by Assemblywomen Vainieri Huttle, Shanique Speight, Holly Schepisi and BettyLou DeCroce, would require the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) to develop a system of scaling actions and penalties for nursing homes which repeatedly violate state and federal regulations for administration and operations. These actions and penalties would include:
· Establishing a special focus survey program for facilities with a history of chronic, repeat violations or noncompliance with administrative enforcement actions;
· Assessing enhanced sanctions and other penalties for continued noncompliance with DOH regulations, particularly if the facility is cited multiple times for the same violation, or when the violations involve infection control. The penalties for repeated or multiple violations would include:
o A series of escalating fines, as well as increased fines if it results in severe adverse health consequences for a resident or staff member;
o A series of escalating licensure actions, particularly if a violation results in severe adverse health consequences, including suspending, terminating or revoking the facility’s license; restricting new admissions; requiring the transfer of residents to another facility; or petition a court of competent jurisdiction for appointment of a receiver.
“The alarming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our nursing homes has forced us to ask ourselves some tough questions. 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?” said Speight (D-Essex). “There are no easy answers, but we must begin by enforcing stricter penalties and increasing our scrutiny of inadequate facilities. Every resident in long-term care – all 45,000 in New Jersey – deserve far better.”
The measure would impose greater responsibility on medical directors to be consistent with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines for state surveys of nursing home medical directors.
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.
“It was unconscionable that families were not receiving information about their loved ones in nursing homes,” said Schepisi (R-Bergen). “Hopefully we will never see anything like it again with oversight that is more consistent and with better reporting in place.”
Nursing homes would also be required annually to report the number and severity of specific infections occurring among residents in the preceding year.
“Many families face the heart wrenching decision to entrust a loved one’s care,” said DeCroce (R-Morris). “That’s why this law is needed.”
Finally, the bill would establish the Nursing Home Advisory Council in DOH to advise the department on oversight of nursing homes, as well as foster communication with the public. The council would identify areas of concern within the nursing home industry and develop recommendations for improvements.
The measure now goes to the Senate for further review.