With more than 55,000 cumulative COVID-19 cases and over 8,000 deaths associated with New Jersey’s long-term care facilities, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Angela McKnight to establish uniform requirements for the submission of outbreak response plans by long-term care and residential facilities was signed into law Thursday.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of a lack of preparedness by long-term care facilities to deal with infectious diseases,” said Assemblyman Conaway (D-Burlington). “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 law (formerly bill A-4430/S-2798) makes it clear that all long-term care facilities, not just those caring for ventilator-dependent residents, and residential facilities – which include assisted living residences, comprehensive personal care homes, dementia care homes and residential health care facilities – will have to submit outbreak response plans to the Department of Health as a condition of their licensure.
Among other requirements, those plans will have to include:
- Protocols for isolating and cohorting infected patients;
- Policies on 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 infectious disease outbreak.
“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 law further stipulates that long-term care facilities with less than 100 beds must hire an infection preventionist 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 help develop, implement and assess the facility’s infection prevention policies and procedures. Residential facilities will also have to have a licensed health care provider designated as their infection preventionist.
“Having an infection preventionist 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 will 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.
They must also perform an annual training exercise to ensure their outbreak response plans are practical, comprehensive and ensure the safety/well-being of residents and staff.