Bill Stems From Conditions Found During Surprise Inspections of Facilities
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey (D-Essex and Morris) that would establish minimum and maximum temperatures in emergency shelters, rooming and boarding houses, nursing homes and residential health care facilities to ensure safe and comfortable conditions for residents passed the Assembly on Thursday.
The bill stems from several surprise inspections that Senator Codey has conducted on boarding houses, shelters, and residential health care facilities in the past. A surprise raid conducted with Mayor Ras Baraka on a rooming house in Newark last February found unsafe living conditions, with inside temperatures at zero degrees Fahrenheit and no running water in the only bathroom in the facility. The facility was immediately shut down and residents were displaced to a nearby YMCA. Senator Codey conducted two more surprise raids in September and found resident rooms with oppressive temperatures of 96 degrees at a boarding house in Newark and as high as 86 degrees at a nursing home in Madison housing elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia who can’t advocate for themselves. Such temperatures are well above the federally-permitted 81-degree limit.
“Under no circumstance should anyone have to live under these inhumane conditions. It’s simply outrageous, and this legislation will put the heat on these facilities to do what’s right,” added Senator Codey. “The residents of these facilities have hit hard times which have put them there in the first place. What they need is safe and comfortable living conditions and to be cared for with compassion.”
Under the bill, S-1961, a nursing home or residential health care facility must be equipped with air conditioning and heating in all areas used by patients or residents, and the air conditioning and heating must be operated so that the temperature does not exceed 81 degrees Fahrenheit or fall under 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The temperature requirements under this bill would be restricted to areas of the facilities that are used by the residents or patients. They would not apply to rooms designated for activities requiring physical exertion, or rooms where residents can individually control the temperature in their own living units, independent from other areas. Under the bill, residential health care facilities and nursing homes that are in compliance with the federal regulatory standard regarding temperature for nursing homes participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs would be exempt from the temperature requirement.
“I’ve personally been to facilities in the winter where conditions were well below freezing inside and temperatures were far beyond tolerable in the summer. We need to do more,” said Senator Codey. “This legislation establishes safety standards that otherwise seem intuitive or common-sense to keep our most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, the homeless, and those who suffer with chronic illnesses or mental health issues, out of harm’s way.”
Senator Codey is one of the state’s leading advocates for residents with developmental disabilities and a staunch critic of poor conditions and major deficiencies at state residential health care facilities and boarding houses.
The bill cleared the Assembly with a vote of 61-1. It previously passed the Senate unanimously and now heads to the Governor’s desk for consideration.