NJ nursing homes reportedly face closer scrutiny and stiffer penalties under governor bill

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A bill that would impose tougher penalties on nursing homes in repeated violation of state and federal codes – especially if a facility is cited multiple times for the same violation – authorized the legislature on Monday.

The measure A4478 / S2759, requires the Ministry of Health to establish a “scaling system” of actions and penalties for violators.

“The deaths and devastation inside our nursing homes that we have witnessed in the deadly early days of the coronavirus pandemic should be a wake-up call to all of us,” the senator said. ‘State Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, President of the Senate on Health. , the Human Services and Seniors Committee and one of the sponsors.

Vitale said nursing homes and those who manage them must be held accountable.

“Obviously our nursing homes were not prepared for the number of infection rates that occurred, and their staff were overwhelmed and in some cases left unprotected,” he said in a statement.

In the Assembly, which passed her version of the legislation over a year ago, MEP Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, who heads the Committee on Aging and Services to the Elderly, said that in in the last three inspection cycles, less than 100 of the new Jersey nursing homes have been fined for impairments. Yet only about 41% of facilities – around 150 – have “well below average” or “below average” health inspection scores. She asked if non-compliance issues were accurately reported or if facilities were not penalized enough to make improvements.

“Over the past two years, thousands of elderly residents of New Jersey nursing homes have lost their lives to coronavirus infection. Meanwhile, there has been little to no accountability for the policies that have been implemented, ”Senator Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, another sponsor of the bipartisan legislation said on Monday. “We need to keep our most vulnerable residents safe – and hold those who put their health at risk to account. “

At least 8,145 nursing home residents and 171 people who work in long-term care facilities in New Jersey have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest data from the Department of Health. There are currently 522 establishments with active outbreaks – a number that has skyrocketed in the past two weeks.

In response to the legislative action, Andrew Aronson, CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey – the largest professional association representing the state’s long-term care industry – said providers are committed to providing the best possible care.

“We will continue to work with the legislature on ways to provide our facilities and their residents with the support they deserve,” he said. “New Jersey nursing homes do a remarkable job of protecting their residents, with immunization rates over 90% and recall rates over 80%, and are already the most regulated area of ​​our system.” health. “

Healthcare consultant Manatt Health, retained by the administration more than a year ago after the coronavirus killed 5,400 long-term care residents in two months, made a litany of recommendations for changes in New Jersey long-term care regulations. In his report, Manatt concluded that the industry was not prepared for the pandemic, in part because a third of all facilities had already been cited for infection control violations and staff shortages were rampant. .

The measure passed by the Senate on Monday would not only toughen penalties, but would also require nursing homes to report additional financial information, requiring owners to electronically publish owner-certified annual financial statements, or IRS Form 990s, in the case of non-profit organizations. operators, along with their most recent cost reports submitted to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. State health officials would also be required to assess staffing levels.

In addition, the measure’s sponsors said nursing homes would be required to participate in the long-term care facility survey component of the National Health Care Safety Network, reporting information monthly and annually on some. nosocomial infections and preventive process measures.

“We need more data on the financial operations of these facilities, as well as more transparency through documents that will reveal the failures and inconsistencies of the past,” said State Senator Fred Madden, D- Camden and Gloucester, another sponsor, in a statement following the bill. passage through 39-0.

The measure now falls to the governor.

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Ted Sherman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @TedShermanSL

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