Slammed by COVID, NJ nursing homes must plan to prevent the spread of outbreaks under new law

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Nursing homes and assisted living facilities will have to prove they will be ready to respond to the next outbreak of the disease by producing a response plan that the Department of Health must approve under a bill signed Thursday by Governor Phil Murphy.

The deadly coronavirus outbreak has claimed the lives of 7,882 long-term care residents and 144 staff, according to the state’s health department’s COVID data dashboard. New Jersey has had one of the highest death rates in the country among residents of long-term care homes.

The new law requires facilities to submit an outbreak response plan within six months, including a strategy to secure more staff in the event of an outbreak or other emergency, according to the law (S2798). The facility will also need to conduct an annual training exercise that demonstrates that the facility can implement the epidemic plan.

The original legislation provided for an additional level of protection: the hiring of a doctor certified in infection prevention part-time or full-time, depending on the size of the establishment. But the long-term care industry has been successful in pushing to reduce this requirement to hire a consultant by February 1, 2022. And, if after that date, the nursing home or assisted living facility has made a “good faith effort” to hire a part-time or full-time preventionist and still cannot find one, the state could waive the requirement, depending on the amendment.

“Finding an infection control specialist is difficult, but our facilities have been working on it for many months,” said Andrew Aronson, CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey. “We appreciate the administration and the legislature on this bill.”

The legislature passed and the governor signed a law requiring epidemic response plans for long-term care facilities licensed to provide care to residents on ventilators, after a deadly adenovirus outbreak killed 11 children in Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell. It has since been sold and renamed the Phoenix Center for Rehabilitation and Pediatrics.

The new law will require long-term care facilities to provide an outbreak response plan.

“Going forward, this law will ensure that our state’s long-term care facilities are fully equipped, staffed and ready to respond to future epidemics,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, a major sponsors of the bill with MP Herb Conaway, D-Burlington.

“COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in our long-term care community. This community is made up of some of our state’s most vulnerable residents. The state and the facilities must do better.

As of Thursday, there were 45 long-term facilities with active COVID outbreaks, with 101 residents and 81 infected, state data showed.

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Susan K. Livio can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.



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