Trenton – This week Governor Phil Murphy signed three bills into law which are aimed at improving infection prevention and control responses in nursing homes, by ensuring staff have access to the training, resources, and education they need, piloting professional advancement programs for nurse aides, assessing and improving nursing home infrastructure, and ensuring complete and accurate reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes.
“As we were reminded during the height of the devastating coronavirus pandemic, our senior citizens and nursing home residents, as well as nursing home workers, are particularly vulnerable when it comes to rapidly spreading disease. Hopefully these new laws will provide the needed support to help our long-term care facilities be better prepared in the event of another life-threatening pandemic,” said Senator Joe Vitale, Chair of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“By signing these measures into law, we can now make sure staff have the educational opportunities and supports they need to care for residents, while also piloting professional advancement opportunities to create career ladders and keep workers in the industry,” added Senator Vitale. “We can also help these facilities incorporate necessary physical plant changes to better ensure the safety of our nursing home residents in times of crisis including offering supports to increase infection control and prevention capability.”
The first law, formerly S-3031, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Vitale, will require the Board of Nursing and the Department of Health to review the curriculum and clinical experience requirements for nurses and certified nurse aides and incorporate the Nursing Home Infection Preventionist Training Course offered through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or a successor course.
Under the law, the Department of Health (DOH) will also be required to work with long-term care facilities and labor organizations to establish a pilot program to develop standards for the professional advancement of certified nurse aides.
“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing homes suffered a deadly toll, with 43 percent of all COVID-19 deaths across the country through June occurring at just nursing homes,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “It has become increasingly evident that we are overdue for a long-term strategy to ensure that our state’s nursing homes are focused on and equipped to support the safety of residents and caregivers. By providing added supports and resources to staff, as well as creating advancement opportunities to decrease turnover and ensure continuity of care, we will be able to deliver the best care for our senior citizens while keeping their health and safety a top priority.”
The second law, formerly S-3032, sponsored by Senator Sweeney and Senator Vitale, will require the DOH to conduct a Statewide nursing home infection control and prevention infrastructure assessment and develop a statewide plan to improve existing systems.
The third law, formerly S-3041, sponsored by Senator Vitale and Senator Vin Gopal, will require the DOH to display on its website the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of employees and residents of long-term care facilities in the State, by facility, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the total number of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths of employees and residents.
“It is widely known that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the elderly, and, as a result, many of our state’s elderly citizens have succumbed to COVID-19 in the last several months,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “In order to help our people, we must take actions to hold facilities accountable for tallying their total cases and deaths. By doing this, we can see where and when spikes are occurring and take appropriate measure to stop them.”