(TRENTON) – With the goal to implement an integral recommendation made by Manatt Health in its State-commissioned report on long-term care, the full Assembly on Thursday voted 78-0 to approve legislation (A-4476) sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald to establish a Long-Term Care Emergency Operations Center (LTCEOC) in the New Jersey Department of Health. The Senate also approved the measure by a vote of 39-0, and it now goes to the Governor’s desk.
“There is no question that New Jersey’s long term care facilities were amongst the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they were also severely underprepared and unequipped for the challenges of this outbreak,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee. “In the face of these tragedies, we must act swiftly to ensure that our long term care facilities have the tools that they need to navigate future emergencies. This legislation will codify the formation of a Long Term Care Emergency Operations Center, a critical step in reforming our long term care infrastructure and emergency response.”
Under the bill, the LTCEOC would serve as the centralized command and resource center for long-term care facility response and communications during infectious disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics affecting long-term care centers. The LTCEOC would be operational within 30 days after the bill is enacted.
Currently, New Jersey’s emergency management central command structure falls under the State Police, but it more frequently focuses on incident or hazard response and natural disasters. It coordinates through a network of county offices and a large number of decentralized public health offices.
“The coronavirus pandemic has hit our long term care facilities at an alarming rate. Nearly 7,000 fatalities have taken place in our nursing homes and long term care facilities,” said Majority Leader Greenwald. “While we certainly are not the only state dealing with outbreaks in our long term care facilities, without adequate staffing, protection equipment, emergency response plans or central channels of communication with health officials, long-term care facilities were at a disadvantage and simply unequipped to keep residents and staff safe in the early critical days of the pandemic. Though no one could have predicted the toll COVID-19 would take, going forward, a centralized command center devoted to long-term care will help us make sure these facilities have the resources they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies.”
Under the bill, the Department of Health would oversee the LTCEOC, with assistance from the New Jersey Department of Human Services and other appropriate State agencies as requested by the Commissioner of Health. The Commissioner would ensure the LTCEOC has staff and consultants on call to address infectious disease emergencies, including representatives and staff from long-term care facilities, county boards of health, the Office of the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and the Office of Emergency Management in the New Jersey State Police, as well as experts in public health, infection control, elder affairs, disability services, emergency response and medical transportation.
The LTCEOC would provide guidance and best practices for emergency response to infectious disease outbreaks, including on staffing, admission, visitation, testing, reporting, quarantine and isolation.
To centralize communications and obtain real-time input from long-term care facility owners, staff, stakeholders and advocates, the LTCEOC would create direct communication mechanisms and feedback loops, including an advisory council and DOH staff liaison.
The Department of Health would be required to institute a regional medical coordination center model for disaster response, which would include a system for partnering long-term care facilities with first responders and medical transportation services.
Additionally, the bill would require the Commissioners of Health and Human Services to ensure federal funding granted to New Jersey for COVID-19 response efforts are made available to long-term care facilities. The commissioners may condition awards of funding on how long-term care facilities are complying with preparedness and response guidance, and how they plan to use the funding.