With more than 39,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 7,200 deaths associated with New Jersey’s long-term care facilities, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Angela McKnight would establish uniform requirements for the submission of outbreak response plans by nursing homes. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Health Committee on Wednesday.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and unfortunately, it is not the last outbreak our state will ever see,” said Assemblyman Conaway (D-Burlington). “Over the past several months, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of long-term care facilities being woefully unprepared to deal with infectious diseases. These communal homes must be ready to stop the spread of any disease that could put residents and staff at risk, be it COVID-19 or anything else.”
The bill (A-4430) makes it clear that all nursing homes, not just those caring for ventilator-dependent residents, would have to submit outbreak response plans to the Department of Health as a condition of their licensure. Among other requirements, those plans would have to include:
- Protocols for isolating and cohorting infected patients;
- Policies on testing and monitoring the health of residents and staff to quickly identify signs of communicable diseases;
- Protocols for identifying sick visitors and requiring sick staff to stay home;
- Clear policies on notifying families, visitors, staff and public health officials of any outbreaks; and
- A strategy for securing more staff in the event of an outbreak among staff members.
“The staggering loss of life in our long-term care facilities never should have happened,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Now that we’ve seen exactly what takes place in these facilities during an outbreak, we cannot sit back and let it happen again. New Jersey families entrust their loved ones to these facilities – they must be prepared to protect the vulnerable residents in their care.”
The measure further stipulates that facilities with less than 100 beds must hire an infectious disease expert on at least a part-time basis while larger facilities or any facility with on-site hemodialysis must hire an expert on a full-time basis to serve as an infection prevention specialist who ensures the facility’s infection control program complies with official regulations.
“Having an infectious disease expert as either a consultant or staff member would make a significant difference in the event of an outbreak,” said Assemblywoman McKnight (D-Hudson). “Plans are only as good as the people helping to oversee and implement them, which is why it’s so important for long-term care facilities to have professionals with the right training and experience on-hand.”
Facilities would be required to post their outbreak response plan to their websites, provide copies of the plan to their residents and families upon admission, and notify residents and families of any changes to their outbreak response plan.
The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.