(TRENTON) – To ensure care providers that serve New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities are prepared for public emergencies, legislation that would require the creation of emergency response plans by the State was approved Thursday by the full Assembly, 75-0.
The measure (A-4138) would require the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and the State Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety, to develop and oversee implementation of a public emergency response plan for licensed providers serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The plan would be created and executed within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.
The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Thomas Giblin.
“No one was fully prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including our developmental centers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It’s critical that we make sure providers have a roadmap of best practices and standards to follow going forward so that we may better protect our most vulnerable.”
A public emergency response plan under the bill must include, at a minimum:
- Establish guidelines and best practices for operations, activities and procedures;
- Identify means, methods and channels so they may obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources necessary to operate and provide services during a public emergency;
- Address various possible emergency scenarios and provide appropriate best practices to handle different types of public emergencies, and;
- Be consistent with and incorporate any guidance published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and any other federal agencies involved in the remediation of public emergencies.
“Providers that serve individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges in combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand-washing may be more difficult for people with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. That’s why it’s so important for providers to have a plan in place to guide residents in practicing these standard precautions.”
“The virus is known to spread in congregate living settings, and sadly, we’ve seen this happen at alarming rates in our developmental centers,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Even more concerning, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. We must take action to ensure this doesn’t happen again, particularly as we prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.”
Additionally, under the bill, the emergency response plan would be reviewed on a biennial basis and as soon as possible following the declaration of a public emergency. A copy of the plan would be posted online.
The measure now goes to the Senate for further review.