NEW JERSEY – Senator Joe Pennacchio and Senator Anthony M. Bucco have introduced legislation to ensure seniors living in veterans and nursing facilities would no longer be subject to the inhumane conditions known to exist in the homes during the pandemic. The measure sets testing and visitation requirements and employment restrictions in response to the COVID outbreak.
“These are the most vulnerable members of our society, and they have the right to expect responsive, respectful and caring treatment and safe living conditions,” Pennacchio (R-26) said. “The reality hasn’t met those expectations, and as a result, 7,000 souls died in the state’s care. This bill will help address issues that contributed to the loss of life. These changes are crucial to protecting residents now during the pandemic.”
The bill (S-2897) establishes requirements for procedures and visitation at long-term care facilities, including mandating all staff of the facilities to be tested for active infection at least once each week, and as soon as they present symptoms of the coronavirus.
“Nursing home residents and staff were recklessly exposed to the virus as it spread from person to person inside the facilities,” Bucco (R-25) said. “Consistent monitoring will help contain infection, keep residents healthy, and save lives. It must be standard procedure. The lives of health-fragile seniors depend on it.”
Under the bill, visitors will be allowed inside facilities once per day for visits within the resident’s room or a designated visitation area if there is more than one resident in the room. Visitors must be screened for signs of COVID, and protocols must be in place to ensure visitors have as little contact as possible with staff and other residents.
“It is impossible to fathom the fear residents must have suffered in the hopeless isolation of facilities lacking the tools and the expertise to contain the virus or treat acute illness behind the walls,” Pennacchio said. “Their terror was only magnified by the ban on visitors that left them alone and forgotten. Homes can maintain safety without withholding personal contact from patients.”
The inability to visit residents also took a toll on families, Bucco said.
“This issue is personal for me. My family currently has a loved one in a long-term care facility,” Bucco said. “I can tell you first hand that there is a significant impact on families who are unable to see and interact with their loved ones. The helplessness and isolation is unnecessary, and the legislation will eliminate it.”
In addition, any employee or contractor at a facility who tests positive for the virus will be required to self-quarantine at home until symptoms pass and a negative test is confirm.
This bill is designated as Sally’s Law, in memory of Sally Griscavage Florek, a resident who was infected by the virus at a nursing home and died before what would have been her 100th birthday on August 1. After a fall she was transported to the hospital for treatment and was released back to the nursing home, where she eventually succumbed to COVID-19.
“My mother died on April 15 and COVID was listed as cause of death,” Phyllis Florek said. “Dozens of residents died in her facility. My prayer is that a thorough investigation of the causes of this human tragedy be conducted resulting in significant changes in the delivery of care in facilities. Her death and that of others should not be in vain.”