(TRENTON) – Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee, announced a sweeping package of bills to implement recommendations outlined in Manatt Health’s review of the long-term care facilities in New Jersey and their response to COVID-19.
The bills seek to ensure long-term care centers are equipped to keep staff and residents safe during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as improve quality of care for residents and working environments for staff.
Sen. Vitale and Vainieri Huttle released the following joint statement on the bill package:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed cracks in our long-term care system. While no one was fully prepared for the challenges brought by COVID-19, long-term care facilities were particularly unequipped to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“As a result, the impact of COVID-19 in these facilities has been devastating. There have been days when nearly 50 percent of COVID-19 related deaths have occured in long term care facilities, including veterans homes. To date, New Jersey has confirmed the deaths of over 6,700 long-term care residents and over 120 staff. These numbers are staggering, heartbreaking, and unacceptable.
“The Manatt report showed COVID-19 did not create the problems in long term care; it merely exacerbated them. Now it’s our turn to take action to address long standing issues and ensure our long-term care facilities are prepared to get through this pandemic and future emergencies. We must also make sure long-term care centers are delivering the highest quality care possible.
“Long-term care facilities are home to our parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and neighbors. Through this sweeping package of legislation, we aim to make their home a more safe and comfortable place.”
The measures in the package include:
· S-2790/A-4476 (Cryan, Vitale/Vainieri Huttle, Greenwald) – Establishes certain requirements concerning the State’s preparedness and response regarding infectious disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics affecting long term care centers, including by creating a Long Term Care Emergency Operations Center in the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) to serve as a centralized command and resource center for response efforts;
· S-2789/A-4477 (Vitale/Chiaravalloti, Conaway, Downey) – Revises licensure, operational and reporting requirements for long term care facilities;
· S-2786/A-4483 (Weinberg/Lopez, Carter, McKnight) – Allows employees in long term care to earn paid sick leave;
· S-2759/A-4478 (Vitale/Vainieri Huttle, Speight) – Requires DOH to establish a scaling system of actions and penalties for long term care facilities in violation of State and federal requirements for operation, creates various reporting requirements, and establishes Long Term Care Facility Advisory Council to advise DOH on long term care oversight and communicate with the public;
· S-2788/A-4479 (Ruiz/Vainieri Huttle, Greenwald, Jasey) – Establishes a program to provide one-time, lump-sum payments to long term care staff who provided a certain volume of direct care services to residents during the COVID-19 pandemic;
· S-2758/A-4482 (Cryan/Tucker, Giblin, Chaparro) – Raises the minimum wage for direct care staff in long term care facilities to be three dollars higher than State minimum wage, and be annually adjusted based on cost-of-living increases;
· S-2787/A-4481 (Codey, Rice/Moen, Sumter, Quijano) – Establishes the New Jersey Task Force on Long Term Care Quality and Safety, which will develop recommendations to make changes in the long term care system to improve person-centered care, resident and staff safety, quality of care, and workforce engagement and sustainability, among others;
· S-2791/A-4480 (Singer/Mejia, Pinkin, Pintor Marin) – Requires New Jersey Department of Human Services to review and evaluate any existing requirements for Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) to contract with any willing provider for the delivery of nursing home services, and determine whether to request amendments or waivers as may be necessary to allow MCOs to terminate or suspend a contract with a nursing home that has a history of multiple violations of licensure requirements that resulted in severe adverse health consequences for facility staff and residents.
The legislation has been referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee. The committees will also be reviewing additional legislation pertaining to long-term care based on outreach to the long-term care community.