(TRENTON) – For about four months, community-based residential facilities and group homes serving people with developmental disabilities were not permitted to allow visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was difficult for many families to be separated from their loved ones with special needs for such a long period of time.
To ensure families will be able to see their loved ones and provide support during these uncertain times, the full Assembly on Thursday voted 75-0 to approve legislation (A-4239) to require the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, to develop guidance and require in-person visitation to be allowed at licensed community-based settings for individuals with developmental disabilities, including group homes and residential programs, during the pandemic and future public emergencies. Residents would be allowed to visit with their immediate family members and legal guardian.
The measure’s sponsors, Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson) released the following joint statement:
“We all depend on our families to get through difficult times. It’s heartbreaking to think that residents of community-based residential facilities and group homes were unable to see their loved ones, their support systems, during the frightening early days of the pandemic. We understand that these restrictions were put in place for the safety of residents and their families alike, however, lengthy separation can do enormous harm. Without regular visits – in some cases, daily – some residents felt isolated, anxious, or depressed. Those with special needs like autism were distressed or confused by the disruption in routine and didn’t know where to turn.
“Now that we have a better understanding of the tools to combat COVID-19 – social distancing, face coverings and screening and testing among them – families have recently been allowed limited visits with their loved ones. However, we must ensure they will be able to stay connected should we see a second wave of the coronavirus. With this bill, we will ensure no resident in a community-based residential setting or a group home will have to face this crisis alone.”