Save Our Seniors: Stop the Tragedy in New Jersey’s Nursing Homes

Posted on 07/29/20

TAKE ACTION!

Tell your elected officials to take action now to protect nursing home residents and staff! Write to NJ lawmakers here: bit.ly/NJNursingHomes.

More than 7,100 residents and staff in New Jersey’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19 - nearly half of all coronavirus related deaths in the state. Yet many measures to protect residents and staff are still not in place. This is a tragedy.

Tell New Jersey legislators to take action now! Urge your representatives to act quickly and enact a package of bills that will help protect residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, stem the loss of life and keep families connected.

Learn more below.

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AARP New Jersey's "Save Our Seniors" Virtual Rally

More than 7,100 residents and staff in New Jersey’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19. Yet many measures to protect residents and staff are still not in place. This is a tragedy.

On August 26, New Jerseyans gathered online to join AARP New Jersey's "Save Our Seniors" virtual rally to demand action from elected officials and to share personal stories about the lack of protection for our loved ones in long-term care facilities. 

We urged legislators to act immediately to enact the package of bills that will protect residents in long-term care facilities and save seniors' lives.

During the virtual rally, we heard from New Jersey residents about what’s happening to their loved ones in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Attendees heard from AARP New Jersey’s Director of Advocacy, AARP’s Vice President of State Advocacy and New Jersey’s Long-Term Care Ombudswoman. This was an opportunity to share our experiences, hear from others, and use our voices to demand change.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Governor Murphy enacted four bills to reform long-term care facilities.

  • S-2790/A-4476 – 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 to serve as a centralized command and resource center for response efforts.
  • S-2787/A-4481 – 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 care and resident and staff safety, among others.
  • S-2758/A-4482 – Raises the minimum wage for direct care staff in long-term care facilities and annually adjusts based on cost-of-living increases.
  • S-2813/A-4547 – Authorizes temporary rate adjustment for certain nursing facilities; appropriates $62.3 million.

These bills, the first of a larger package of legislative reforms making their way through the Legislature, make significant and necessary improvements to protect residents and staff at New Jersey nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Read AARP New Jersey's statement here and the Governor's press release here.

The rally recording can be found here, and media coverage on NJ.com can be found here.

The Job is Not Finished. More Action is Needed Now.

These are critical first steps. AARP is urging the New Jersey Legislature act immediately to enact the remaining bills in the package that will protect residents in long-term care facilities and save seniors' lives. We are urging lawmakers to enact:

  • S-2712/A-4652 – Establishes minimum direct care staff-to-resident ratios in nursing homes. Senate bill posted for Senate Budget and Appropriations vote on September 22, 2020. Bill posted for full Assembly vote on September 24, 2020.  
  • S-2785/A-4007 – Requires the Department of Health to implement and oversee Isolation Prevention Project in long-term care facilities during public emergencies.  Requires virtual visitation when in-person visitation is suspended. Passed in the Senate. Posted for Assembly floor vote on September 24, 2020. 
  • S-2788/A-4479 – 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. Passed in the Senate. Posted for Assembly floor vote on September 24, 2020. 
  • S-2784/A-4485 – Dedicates personal protective equipment to long-term care facilities during public health emergency. Bill passed in Committees.  Require full votes in the Senate and Assembly.
  • S-2786/A-4483  Allows per-diem employees in long-term care to earn paid sick leave. Passed in the Senate. Yet to be posted for Assembly floor vote. 
  • S-2759/A-4478 – Requires the Department of Health to establish a system of actions and penalties for long-term care facilities in violation of state and federal requirements, creates reporting requirements, and establishes a Long-Term Care Facility Advisory Council for oversight and communication with the public.  Introduced. Committee action required.
  • S-2789/A-4477 – Establishes more transparency and accountability by revising licensure, operational and reporting requirements for long-term care facilities.  Introduced. Committee action required. 
  • S-2791/A-4480 – 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. Introduced. Committee action required. 

Stop the Tragedy in Our Nursing Homes

This is a tragedy that should never have happened and one that our state must ensure never happens again.

The more than 7,100 deaths are not statistics to be ignored or explained away. They are our mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, friends and spouses with families who love them.  

AARP New Jersey is fighting to protect nursing home residents against sickness, neglect, and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also educating family caregivers on how to advocate for their loved ones.

The Time for Action is Now!

We must ensure better care in long-term care and put more “nursing” and more “home” into nursing homes. Systemic problems within our long-term care system existed long before the pandemic and have been heartbreakingly exacerbated by COVID-19. Not only must New Jersey respond to the immediate needs of this crisis, we must tackle meaningful structural reforms to our long-term care system. With bold and significant change, New Jersey can move to the forefront of our nation in ensuring the safety and dignity for everyone in our state, including the most fragile among us. 

AARP is Fighting For:

  • Mandatory, regular, ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents and staff.
  • Minimum staff to resident ratios. Safe and quality long-term care does not exist without adequate numbers of well-trained staff. New Jersey must establish minimum staffing to resident ratios for RNs, LPNs and CNAs that are aligned with different needs of nursing home residents, such as residents with dementia and on-site infection control specialists.
  • Ending social isolation. New Jersey must enact measures that affirm and facilitate a resident’s right to communicate with their loved ones through virtual visitation during times of lock down. Even as some nursing homes begin allowing in-person visits, virtual visitation must be an option for communication between families and residents.
  • Improved transparency. Daily, public reporting on the number of days individual facilities have remained infection free; analysis and action to address disparities; mandatory communication with families; and, funding accountability.
  • Accountability. No sweeping immunity for long-term care facilities related to COVID-19.

This story is provided by AARP New Jersey. Visit the AARP New Jersey page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.